This is Different

It’s the first time I’ve experienced this.

I’ve racked up lifetime air miles equivalent to 20 round trips to the moon. I’ve spent time in several dozen countries, and even done a previous month-long vacation.

But this is different.

The experience of continuous surface travel, over a period long enough for time to slow, and across a distance spanning six time zones and 38 degrees of latitude is fundamentally different.

Air travel leaves you perceiving the world as isolated places. (If the purpose is business, often as little more than airports, hotels, and offices.) You’re here… and then you’re there. You might look out the plane’s window en route, but that’s equivalent to watching a bit of a movie.

You don’t really gain a human scale appreciation of distance, or of connections between places.

With travel of the sort I’ve been on for the past month, you do.

You experience how the oceans, seas, gulfs, and bays flow one into the next. You feel the weather working. You understand why people chose to settle here, and here… but not there. The distinctive characters of cultures become connected to features of the lands in which they grew and developed. History comes to make a new kind of sense.

You see the map as a living reality, and the earth as an organic whole… and all of the sights you’ve seen, and experiences registered take on an entirely new form of richness as a result.

Postcard from the Suez Canal

In passage from The Red Sea to The Mediterranean

Facts about the Suez Canal:

  • There are no locks; it is at sea level for its entire extent
  • It took 10 years to build, and opened for operation in 1869
  • Its current capacity 47 ships per day, who make the passage in one way convoys, north or south
  • The Egyptian government is building an extension that will double its capacity when complete in 2016
  • The waters in the norther half flow north in the winter, south in the summer; waters in the southern half flow with the Red Sea tides
  • It is 120 miles long, 670 feet wide, and 80 feet deep
  • Speed is limited to 8 knots, to prevent damage to the banks
  • The cost of passage for a ship the size of the Seabourn Sojourn is $250,000
  • A passage through it is an absolutely great way to spend your 60th birthday
Suez Canal Images

Suez Canal Images

Petra: A Portal in Time

Gulf of Suez,
In queue to enter the Canal
En route to Israel
60 years – 1 day

Our stops throughout this journey have been at points of intersection, where waves of successive cultures left their marks on local histories, sometimes in still distinct layers, others as ingredients in various exotic mixtures.

All have been remarkable, but none more so than our most recent waypoint — Petra, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan… which we experienced as an opening of time itself, into an exotic past. Continue reading

A Hope for Growth

Travel of this sort is not at all about movement from A to B, or principally about the pleasures of the diversions along the way. (Note: they have been very nice however.)

It’s highest purpose is to grab you by the shoulders, shaking loose and casting off the set perspective of your world view, with its various filters, simplifying categories, and established story lines, allowing you to see places and people, if only in glimpses, as they truly are… not trapped in someone else’s framings or narratives.

You hope that the revealed clarities, and more importantly the ways of seeing that lead to them, will linger beyond the journey. You hope for the kind of growth that can only come from genuinely fresh (occasionally shocking) experiences, and the ample time needed to allow them to cohere into a wider and perhaps somewhat wiser view of the world’s workings.

This trip is well on its way toward fullfilling those hopes.

Reflections on Oman, and Leadership

At Sea
1 Day out of Salālah
En Route to Aqaba, Jordan*

With no waking witness, the first milky light of day notched into the cabin around the time our ship slipped into port. A short time later, when the door chime announced breakfast’s arrival, the living room was fully lit in a diffuse glow.

Salalah Oman lay just outside, and a half day’s exploring it just ahead.

As Ellie poured strong coffee, I pulled the curtains fully aside, uncovering a view of docks, and container vessels, and cranes in methodical operation, and limestone quarries crossed by trails of dust, and busses all in a row, and workers busy sweeping in a choreographed procession to clear the after effects of a day-earlier sandstorm we found to be the reason the day’s light had its particular character upon our arrival.

Cleaning up after the sand storm

Cleaning up after the sand storm

Throughout the day, the cloudless sky never turned blue, and the air carried a dust so fine as to escape any direct observation. All we saw was its veil-like effect on the light, and its remains on flat surfaces. It added nicely to the sense of the exotic, in this, our first visit to the Sultanate of Oman. Continue reading

Postcard from Mumbai

Arabian Sea
Arriving Salālah, Oman Tomorrow, 06:00 Local

Traffic, people in their many millions, abject poverty hard by opulence, layers of history sitting still stratified in their rich variety, strong and fervently practiced religious traditions living side by side (but perhaps not with quite the claimed level of total harmony), commerce trumping politics in a vibrant globalizing city… but with a visible military and police presence preventing geo-politics and the echoes of the terror events of not so long ago from exiting what is a very busy stage*.

Oh, and did I mention traffic?

That’s Mumbai.

My experience of this teeming city of 18 million souls was still more limited than in our prior two ports of call, as it was captured entirely from a motor coach that followed a route of, what… maybe 10 miles, over about four hours of travel time, without (intentional) stops.

Did I mention traffic?

I’ll let pictures do the rest of the work here (at least for now)… I’ll circle back with some further thoughts at a later date.

[You can view a full gallery of images from my entire journey here.]

* Our route passed immediately by all three targets of the 2008 attacks

Mumbai traffic... is everywhere

Mumbai traffic… is everywhere

Modern High rise buildings, washerman village, street hawker

High rises, washerman village, street hawkers

Street Hawker Protest March (~20,000 men)

Street Hawker Protest March (~20,000 men)

Miles of these hovels line even the main streets of Mumbai

Miles of these hovels line even the main streets of Mumbai

...and then there was traffic

…and then there was traffic

Postcard from Mangalore

Arabian Sea
2nd day at Sea, En Route to Salilah, Oman

Our second of three stops as we traveled north on the Malabar Coast was at Mangalore, a medium sized trade and commercial hub, in the state of Karnataka… and a place of no particular distinction. (When I asked our guide to describe what made this place special, he hesitated at great length, and then answered something involving hotel chains founded here and ‘warm people.’)

Therein lies its value to the traveler. It provides, it seemed to me, a lens into ‘average India,’ if there is such a thing. Continue reading

Postcard from Kochi

After only the briefest of stays, in three port regions scattered across the western shores of this vast land, it’s impossible of course to give a fair accounting of a sprawling country of 1.3 billion, with a rich history that spans millennia — from before recorded time to today’s headlines.

What is possible however, and what I’ll attempt in this and two following “postcards”, is to share a tiny sample of impressions and refractions from images captured and notes taken during my time in Cochin, Mangalore, and Mumbai India.

India’s is a history comprising both the actions of a highly varied indigenous set of peoples, and the numerous layered footprints of cultures from afar, with the passing centuries bringing influence from Arabs and Persians, then Europeans… and now from the inexorable forces of globalization.

What Ellie, our fellow travelers, and I experienced during our several landings was thus an assembly across time, blending cultures as they were across various ‘thens,’ crafted by many hands.

These visits, our first to the sub-continent, accomplished for me what one hopes for through such an undertaking: the immediate visceral experience of wonder, leading to passing phases of disorientation and confusion, on the way to humility, respect, just a bit of understanding, and an opening up of personal perspectives.

Perhaps what I share here will offer some pleasing echoes of that journey toward appreciation, and the encouragement you need to set out on your own comparable adventure. Come along, and let me tell you a few stories…

Continue reading