Finding Me on the Other Side of the World.
I can still remember the feeling as I gingerly stepped through the ancient gate onto the Great Wall of China; the wall snaking off in either direction as far as the eye could see.
It was just me, alone with my guide, Tao, on top of a mountain ridge in a strange land thousands of miles from home.
Retired now, I had compiled a Bucket List of places to see, adventures to experience and photos to take. But what I lacked was a kindred spirit to share the journey and the excitement. And somehow, the notion of traveling alone, to far distant and strange places was daunting.
Those who knew me might think that was odd. I had spent the last decade of a successful thirty year business career in an executive position, leading a group of several people. I had regularly spoken in front of large groups. I had worked the room confidently at endless business and networking functions. I was used to travelling alone on business trips and eating alone in restaurants in cities across the country.
But the idea of packing my bags and flying off to the other side of the world, to a country I did not know, where I could not speak the language somehow shook my confidence to the core. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown. What if something happened?
That is, until I stumbled upon the perfect companion… a group of photo and travel enthusiasts with the same passions that I had. The carrot I needed was an upcoming expedition to Thailand, promising spectacular photographic opportunities, once in a lifetime adventures and an introduction to travelling to the far corners of this amazing planet to meet up with a group of people just like me! That was enough to get me going.
“If you are travelling all that way,” my daughter urged, “you should make it worthwhile. Where else would you like to go?”
At the very top of my list, beckoning to me, was The Great Wall of China. Not exactly next door, I’ll admit, but close enough. I could work that in, but it would mean a four day stop in Beijing, and my long anticipated hike on The Great Wall, alone.
Stepping off the plane in Beijing, the realization hit me - I knew not a soul in this metropolis of 27 Million people. For three days I wandered the streets of Beijing, not a word of English around me; street signs and bus stops in indecipherable characters.
I stumbled into enchanting little tea shops offering dainty walnut cookies with steeped green tea in delicately hand-painted pots.
I followed the small streets as they wound through the Hutongs of old Beijing, stopping to watch an elderly man straining as he navigated the streets in a rickshaw, his equally aged wife clutching a small bag of groceries in the back.
I watched the sun set over Tiananmen Square and explored within the walls of the Forbidden City.
And each night as I found my way back to my hotel, my confidence grew.
And finally, Day 4, here I was stepping out onto the Great Wall. No security blanket, no comfort zone. But the greatest feeling of confidence and pride.
I knew now that I could do it. That I could tick off those places on my list.
Thailand beckoned. I was ready, I was eager. New friends awaited, new adventures called.
There was no stopping me now.
It has been two years since that first life-changing adventure and I am officially hooked. The Great Escapes photography and travel-writing excursions are my addiction. In that two year period I have travelled to Peru where I wandered through the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu and hiked to the top of the mountain peak that overlooks the ruins.
I have journeyed through Rajasthan in Northern India, sleeping in a 200 year-old castle one night and a tent at a camel fair the next night. I have elbowed my way through the throngs of Old Delhi and stood, breathless and in awe as the sun rose on the splendor of the Taj Mahal in Agra.
And as I travelled, met new friends from around the globe and discovered the multitude of cultures and traditions that shape our world, I grew. I studied (yes, I am the keener in the group) all the photography secrets the instructors like Efrain Padro patiently shared with us, and my photography skills grew. I am now regularly selling my images on stock sites and as fine art.
I absorbed the travel writing tips and techniques that leaders like Margot Biggs generously imparted as we wandered through ancient and historic lands, and my writing skills grew. I have now had several stories published and revel in seeing my name in the byline.
The wonderful thing about life is that we get to re-invent ourselves. Life is like a great book, with many chapters. We are the author, we get to determine where the story goes and the tales it tells along the way. And I am going for a bestseller.
Next week I head off on my fourth Photography/Travel Writing expedition, this time to Tanzania and a photo safari in the Serengeti. From there I will add on a four day stint to Zanzibar, an island archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. To say I am excited would be an understatement. I imagine the photos I will take – lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants. I imagine the sights, the smells, the colors of the famous Spice Island and its incomparable white sandy beaches. My curiosity is piqued. Like a child before Christmas, I am counting the sleeps until we go.
And as the story continues, I know for sure that travel, and Great Escapes, will continue to be part of that.
Come With Me as I embark on my journey to Africa. Only 4 more sleeps…..