Saturday, November 23, 2013


New York,  November 19, 2013


The Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan offers rooms (suites) for forty-five-thousand dollars per day.

Oh yeah, the article where I found out about that bargain, also said that efforts are under way to increase availability of such pricey hotel accommodations in town in order to satisfy the demands by well-off visitors.

A brochure offers Manhattan digs for rent, priced as high as 125,000 dollars per month. The 125,000 dollar per month one comes with a south-facing garden … duh!

85,000 per month gets you seven bedrooms and two fplcs (fire places). At another, a 8.500 per month dwelling, you are pampered with washer/dryer, wine cooler and abundant storage, but in the advertisement for that one it says specifically that pets are not allowed.

There are about fifty of those kinds of digs listed in the brochure, the least expensive I found, at 2,800 is for a one-bedroom with marble bath.

I live in a beautiful, comfortable SoHo loft that I converted in the eighties to residential from a plumbing supply warehouse. It is in a neighborhood where nowadays are local restaurants that feel to me like home away from home,  I have friends and friendly neighbors. Whatever outlandish goodies I might fancy are practically at my fingertips. When in the early morning I go out to get the newspaper, I exchange "good morning" with several people that are also out at the time. Some aspects of big city living, even in Manhattan, feel like country living.

The digs I found last year in the vicinity of a pitch dark bus stop in southern Ethiopia for 1,80 dollar per night, one of the cheapest during my recent travels, quite possibly made me a happier camper — even after having stepped into a sewage ditch, resulting in dirty smelling feet in the dark between the bus stop and the hotel — than the pampered 45,000-dollar-per-day-hotel-room-dweller in Manhattan.

As mentioned often in this blog, my purpose in traveling is to experience how people live in the countries I visit, to eat what they eat, to travel they way they travel, to experience some of the problems they experience; like police corruption, traffic and pedestrian congestions, contaminated water and strange food of questionable provenance. I also get a taste of their misery, along with their joys and laughter.

The Manhattan visitor in the forty-five-thousand-dollar-a-day-digs is not likely to find out how good some of the local Big Apple street food can be. He won't experience the culinary delight of a spicy Italian sausage with sautéed peppers and onions from a griddle, packed in between a crusty bread. When you bite into that Italian sausage, it leaves a reddish, fatty smear from ear to ear, as if painting a big smile across your mug.

He is not likely to come across classy street performers in Washington Square park or in Central park, or in Union Square park. I saw Philippe Petit doing his tricks on a rope stretched between two trees. He later became a famous sensation for his high wire walk between the World Trade Center towers and the film "Man on Wire". In Washington Square he performed for coins thrown into a hat.

The few times I happened to stay in first class hotels, eateries, or saw performances, I found they offer more or less the same standardized fare all over the world. A first class wine tastes the same at the Peninsula in Hong Kong, as in the George V or the Meurice in Paris, the Raffles in Singapore, the Carlton in Cannes, the Imperial in Tokyo, and, yes, at the Four Seasons or the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.

One of the best theatrical/ music performance I ever saw was not in Manhattan's Lincoln Center, but in a Tanzania train station where some waiting fellow passengers did a lusty, improvised war dance in street clothes, accompanied by home made and improvised instruments.

One time, in an extremely unlike place, I hit the jackpot with wine. My brothers and I were fishing in Canada's Labrador at a godforsaken a-hole in the middle of nowhere in the barren land. The place didn't have a restaurant but two greasy spoon diners, across the muddy street from each other, both belonging to woodland Indians. On a whim, Peter, one of my brothers, asked if they had wine.
"Only one kind, red," the toothless man said.
"How much?"
"Oh, gimme five dollars," the man said. He brought the bottle.
Our eyes almost popped out. The bottle was a Mouton Cadet, Mise en Bouteille au Chateau Rothschild. The other diner across the street in the small town, we found out, had the same Mouton Cadet Rothschild and nothing else.

We figured, a container full of the stuff from a ship wreck must have washed up on the shore, or there was an over-supply of that vintage and the Chateau's business powers that be, instead of destroying it, sent a container full of that elixir for a song to that godforsaken place in Labrador where, because nobody-who-is-anybody ever goes there, it would not influence the price among the world's cognoscenti.

Traveling is much more fun, and much more exciting, when I am on a few-dollars-per-day budget. It promises totally unexpected discoveries. Best of all, I am likely to meet fellow travelers who have the same kinds of goals as I. Unlike business travelers or leisure searching blasé jet setters they also search for exciting, out-of-the-way wacky adventure places far from the organized holiday hotel, cocktail and beach crowds.

To a frequent reader of my blog it must sound redundant, but I can't help shouting out ever once in a while:

 I have a love affair with our beautiful planet!

The Darien Gap will have to wait for me 'til some time in January. We'll have a family reunion in London for Christmas. Going from a cold, wet place to another cold, wet place, from New York to London, doesn't sound exciting except it will be grandkids, kids and grandpa.

At least, unlike in the Darien Gap, in London I won't be plagued by mosquitoes and won't be stalked by jaguars, and won't have to wade across rivers and there won't be FARC rebels to deal with. London Bridge will be more comfortable for a river crossing but it will also be less exciting.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


New York, November 7, 2013 (in my luxurious SoHo loft)

I just counted from an UN list of countries the ones I have visited so far, crossed off 153 and realized I am running out of places to explore without stepping over my tracks.

To get to really know those countries, I sometimes stayed put and sometimes traveled on local buses, hitchhiked, floated on big and sometimes tiny river boats, and sometimes also on luxurious dive boats. I crossed the Atlantic four times on small sailboats,
• once from Cornwall in England with my children to New York, without previous sailing experience,
• then singlehanded from Holland, via Cornwall, the Azores to Newport, Rhode Island in the US,
• then from Dakar in Senegal, with Emilie my wife, and partly my daughter Nina, to Florida via the Cap Verdes, the Caribbean and the Bahamas,
• next from Bordeaux in France to Florida, via Ireland, the Azores, also with Emilie.

Sometimes I was driving cars and trucks, or riding on camels, donkeys and horses, for a short lark even an ostrich on a South African ostrich farm, sat in the driver's seat of scooters and mopeds, rode on back seat motorcycle taxis. Once as passengers on motorcycle back seats on a really lousy road in the former DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North and South Vietnam we, Emilie and I, crossed over the mountains to Laos.

The brain got shaken to mush on rattling bush taxies, stuffed dallah-dallahs of East Africa or on the Paris-Dakar rally across the Sahara.

Sometimes goals were reached at a more leisurely pace by trekking;
• once over the Himalayas, described in my book A SHORT STINT IN TIBET,
• or in the Sahara, after our caravan was robbed in the middle of nowhere in the desert, when we had to walk to Timbuktu (described in the documentary film, BAREFOOT TO TIMBUKTU, and in my book SEASONS OF SAND, Simon & Schuster 1993.
• In Patagonia, Emilie and I circumambulated the majestic Torres de Paine and trekked many days between Chile and Argentina.
• Trekking in the swamps of the Brazilian Pantanal with Cato, the farmer, meant sidestepping crocodiles.

Traveling was almost always by local means, eating local food, sleeping where locals sleep.

I got treated in local hospitals;
• for a hernia  operation in Uruguay,
• an eye extraction in Tanzania,
• a festering wound on my belly in Paraguay
• an arm paralysis in Brighton, England (before the single-handed North Atlantic sailboat crossing).

I heard their laughter, and sometime joined in. I saw — and felt — their sorrows.

As mentioned a few times before in this blog:


Sometime in the future I plan to describe a few of my more memorable encounters with our planet. It will be from memory because most of those exploits took place when computers were but the stuff of science fiction. 

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