Palace for nobles

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

Trip images, so far

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.

Near Taqah Castle

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

A city of contrasts

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

Our journey

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

Map of Cochin

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

Paging Captain Phillips...

A Bit of Excitement on the High Seas

5:00 PM Local Time
Bay of Bengal
Cocktails on the Veranda

… and then, with a flourish, these guys make a grand appearance in a great rush from the starboard side.


Thought of the moment? “Paging Captain Phillips…”

Turns out that they were a fishing boat out of Sri Lanka, and out of food and water. Provisions provided, they went on their way.

The youngest initiate

Reflections on Yangon Part II

Reporting from somewhere in the Bay of Bengal…

There are three seasons in Myanmar: Summer (damn hot), Rainy (damn hot and wet), Winter (pretty damn hot). We visited in Summer. Of course.

That’s among the things I learned on our second day in country.

Again as yesterday, my education was aided by a guide — this time not a politically charged up young man — rather a charming, giggling between every other sentence, young woman.

Our Guide

Our Guide

Among other tidbits I came to know through her, and via my keen powers of observation:

  • The bottled “drinks” displayed in vertical wooden racks by vendors all along the road to Yangon are in fact filled not with lemon soda or iced tea as the vessles and labels would imply, but rather with petrol… to top up the tanks of the sea of motorbikes that ply the route.
  • The rise of a monied class of business people working in Yangon, along with rapidly escalating prices downtown, has led to a surge in upscale housing development in the city’s surrounding regions. Think: ’80s style condo complexes sitting hard alongside miles of shacks as context. As I commented yesterday, it’s a land of mixing realities.
  • Monks are required to go barefoot across the scalding ground when they make their daily rounds seeking alms (donations of food), so that they are viscerally reminded to stay in touch with the problems of everyday people. (Question: Could this work for Members of Congress in search of campaign contributions?)
  • Aggressive drivers are the same the world over. The captain of our coach showed great enthusiasm for the use of his horn, and would turn to glare over his shoulder at length, with menace and incredulity, at all who failed to live up to his standards of suitable road etiquette.

Some brief notes and observations from the day’s program follow…

We arrived back at Shwedagon Pagoda just in time to witness a coming of age initiation ceremony, with featured participants aged eight to eighteen, (the youngest crying, the eldest glowering) proudly accompanied by their relatives. I learned that it’s common to set the qualifying age so as to ensure that grandparents are able to witness the ceremony from this world, rather than the next.

Initiation ceremony

Initiation ceremony

It’s amusing to be the subject of reverse tourism. Ellie and I, seeking shade, found ourselves sitting alongside a group of local teenagers… who, with hesitancy that gave way to courage, proceeded to document us at great length with their mobile phone cameras as, presumably, examples of an exotic species from a far off land.

Next stop was at a downtown open air market, timed most cleverly to coincide with the peak heat of the day. Our guide suggested caution regarding the provenance and quality of goods on offer, and expanded, “The ‘Government Registered’ designation you’ll see on many shops means that they are selling what they claim, but carries no assurances on authenticity or quality.” Crystal clear.


Ellie showed her creative pluck by entering one of the very few air conditioned shops, at the peripheray of the market, and negotiating — very slowly — without any intent of positive outcome — for the non-purchase of a piece of jade (a $2300 hand cooler of no distinguishing merit)… giving just enough time for the outflow of sweat from my brow to slow.

Our transition to the day’s next stop, lunch at the Shangri-La Hotel, was delayed by fifteen minutes (felt longer in the tepid coach atmosphere), by a couple who got caught up in an extended negotation toward the purchase of some local fabric. Their arrival back at the coach was met with steely glares.

That lunch, a buffet, memorable for its excellent food, blessed AC, and very pleasant chat with the Seabourn Sojourn’s captain’s wife, gave us the strength to power through the balance of the afternoon… which featured…

A photo stop at the larger of two downtown lakes in Yangon… cleaner for the workings of a pair of machines donated by the Japanese.

Lake in Yangon, view to Shwedagon Pagoda

Lake in Yangon, view to Shwedagon Pagoda

…The National Museum, with its modest but proud exhibits of early life in Myanmar…

… and a pavilion built to house “the fifth largest reclining Buddha” (one of three canonical poses).

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

On the way back to port, our guide elaborated on the astrologically focused, mystical side, of her country…

…How the week day of one’s birth (there are eight in Myanmar, with Wednesday being divided into AM and PM) carries great import in determining your nature. Each is aligned with a corresponding creature. I’m a Tuesday baby (a Lion), reportedly ambitious by nature, but marked by a ‘sharp tongue.’ I’m shocked and appalled…

…How baby’s names are traditionally chosen based on the alignment of letters of the local alphabet with those days…

…How a first born Saturday baby (‘Tar Tei Sa Nay Thar’) is thought to bring great risk to its parents, given its supernatural powers…

…How the truth of all of this was driven home for our guide by the fact that her astrologer fortold the need for her to deliver her baby by C-section.

We left Myanmar much richer for the brief time spent there.

The experiences we had over this past weekend, while packaged and choreographed (as these sort of things always are), will live on in our memories for a very long time as not just fascinating, but as deeply revealing of human realities, and fundamentally real in all of their complexity.