Travel

DAY 10, FRI., NOV. 8, DAY 11, SAT., NOV 9 ANGKOR, CAMBODIA

On our departure this morning from Cairns, we were welcomed aboard by our cabin crew in “native costume” for the barrier reef:

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The 7 ½ hour flight went by fast for me since I had to lecture on “Angkor: Cosmogony and Cosmology in Stone.” I think it went well. (The next day, local guides confirmed much that I had to say but lacked the larger perspective on India-derived religion that I offered.)

Late in the afternoon, we descended into Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor. Out the window of the plane, you could see the vast lake of Tonlé Sap

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Water defines the Angkor region, with some scholars arguing that the great empires here—with wealth enough to build the mammoth Angkor complex—are a result of the need for centralized planning and control of water resources, which, while abundant, can range from flood to draught throughout the year.

DAY 11, SAT., NOV. 9

This morning, we were up and out at 5:15 to witness the sunrise, along with hundreds of other people, at Angkor Wat. Approaching the temple via the Naga (serpent) causeway I caught this picture at a moment when the crowds seemed to thin.

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And this one of the temple reflected in its moat:

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There really wasn’t much sunrise, but the morning was fascinating: Dara

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guided us through a complete tour of the temple compound, including many of the galleries on which I had just lectured.

Here’s a large gallery on the northwest side with bas-reliefs from the Ramayana epic

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The quality of this carving is impressive. This is a panel dealing with the victory of Rama’s monkey ally, Hanuman, over one of the men of the demon Ravana:

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Everywhere through the temple, there are apsaras, celestial dancers. There are said to be 1,500 in all, many with distinctive hairstyles.

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We climbed to the highest level, just beneath the central tower (representing Mt. Meru, the axis mundi)

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and then re-descended to walk the large southern and eastern galleries. The key bas-relief, on which I had just lectured, is the vast depiction of the gods and demons using the serpent Vasuki to churn the milky ocean in order to recover the elixir of immortality. You can see the serpent stretching out across the gallery.

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And here at the center, an apsara over his head, is Vishnu standing on his turtle avatar, directing this cosmogonic/cosmological event.

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This bas relief is crucial to the meaning of Angkor Wat, which, as a mausoleum for King Suryavarman II, represents his effort to ally himself with Vishnu’s role as the sustainer of the ordered universe.

Late in the morning, as the sun turned Angkor into a steam bath, we returned to our hotel, the exquisite Raffles (the best hotel so far, I think, on a trip of great hotels), and I was able to cool off in the hotel’s immense pool.

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The afternoon was devoted to a special event: a cooking course offered by Raffles’ culinary department. This is the second such course I’ve taken (the first, a full day course, was a birthday present to me from Mary Jean some years ago when we were staying at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. I still treasure my gilded, framed certificate from that, which hangs on the wall of our Norwich kitchen.)

Although brief, only 2 ½ hours, this course rivaled the Oriental’s. After an introduction from the head chef, an Aussie, I think, we were divided into two groups and led by two Cambodian sous chefs.

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In all, we prepared five courses: a green mango salad (see above for the start; a very good salad), a sweet and sour tamarind flavored soup, spicy chicken in a coconut milk curry,

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a stir fried Chinese-style beef dish, and stir fried Cambodian kale (almost a cross between bok choy and broccolini). Here I am looking silly in my toque:

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The finale of the course was special: a coconut-milk-custard-filled pumpkin. We didn’t do it ourselves, but watched one of the chefs, a cheerful woman, go through  the steps (the last of which is steaming the custard filled pumpkin for an hour).

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Once I find just the right pumpkin, I’m going to try this at home for Thanksgiving. It tastes as good as it looks.

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DAY 12, SUN., NOV. 10 ANGOR MORNING

This morning we visited two sites constructed by the last great Khmer monarch, Jayavarman VII (1125-1218 c. e.), the Ta Prom and the Bayon. Jayavarman departed from the Shaivite faith of his predecessors and adopted Buddhism, so both sites resonate with Buddhist iconography (although a Hindu reaction after his death led to the destruction or effacement of many sculptures and carvings). Ta Prom is a monastery dedicated to Jayavarman’s mother. The name (a later adoption) combines words for “grandmother” and “Brahma” in reference to the four-faced stupas (reliquaries) that dot the compound. Here is the small causeway that leads to the site:

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Ta Prom’s special charm comes from the many large trees that have spring up from roofs and the scattered stones, lending the site a romantic and haunting air. Apparently, “Tomb Raiders” with Angelina Jolie was filmed here. Our guide, Sam, took pleasure in pointing out specific places where scenes were shot.

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Sam is a story unto himself.

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During our rides from site to site he told us about his life. As a sixteen-year old high school student in 1975, he and his entire family were ordered by the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian communists) out of Siem Reap to their natal village seventy kilometers into the countryside. Because the family was judged to be “middle class,” his father and older bother were soon shot. Although all high school students 10th grade and above were slated for liquidation, Sam, a tenth grader, somehow survived. He spent much of the next three and a half years of Khmer Rouge rule working in rice and cane fields. Workers had two scant meals a day. At one point, he was so hungry that he ate a fruit known to be toxic, a decision he survived with a bad headache and “fuller stomach.” A single mistake in handling the crops could lead to a visit by several “friendly” people from the regime. That would be the end. One of his friends accidentally cut down a small cane plant while removing weeds, and was so visited. The visitors said that they needed him for help on a project elsewhere but that he shouldn’t take his things because “he would be back that night.” The friend was never seen again. Many of the two million Cambodians who died (out of a population of eight million) disappeared in this way: a plant being worth more than a human being. At one point, in order to avoid being conspicuous as a student, Sam dyed his white school shirt black using the leaves of a toxic tree (he pointed these leaves out to us floating in the moat at Ta Prom). The ploy must have worked, although the toxin made Sam’s back itch whenever he he sweated heavily.

Our next stop was Angkor Thom and the Bayon, Jayavarman’s amazing tomb complex with dozens of four faced reliquaries, including a central one dedicated to the king himself. Researchers believe that many of these faces are of deceased members of Jayavarman’s retinue (120 name inscriptions have been found), although they also resemble the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Once again, as I said in my lecture, we see a royal mausoleum that honors the dead king while linking him back to sacred events, in this case a Buddha-to-be and evocations of the four-faced creator God Brahma.

Here is the Bayon from the front:

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And here are two of the reliquaries, with their four-faced ancestors and/or images of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara:

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Our visit ended with an elephant ride around the whole site. Here, some fellow travelers wobbling ahead of us on their elephant.

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Finally, a parting image of the Bayon:

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On the way back to the hotel, Sam told us of his years as a fighter on the Vietnamese side against the Khmer Rouge during Cambodia’s civil war, which lasted from 1979 until 1998. He also served during this period as a schoolteacher and school principal. Going to work, he carried an AK47 and took out some revenge on Khmer Rouge opponents for the murder of his father and brother. He was also very careful to keep an eye out for the Khmer Rouge landmines, small green plastic devices only big enough to blow one’s foot off, which Khmer Rouge insurgents routinely uses to protect themselves from pursuit. Here is a small musical band made up of landmine victims that set up shop on the pathway out of the Bayon.

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By the way, Sam married a schoolmate with whom he worked during the Khmer Rouge years. He now has four children and six grandchildren. He’s a survivor.

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DAY 12, SUN., NOV. 10 AFTERNOON

The afternoon was devoted to a visit to the Chong Kneas Floating Village on Tonlé Sap lake. This is one of a set of such villages that ring the lake, which expands from about 1,500 square miles in the dry season (November to April) to 4,500 square miles in the wet season (May to October), when the lake floods with waters that the Mekong River brings down from the snow melt in Tibet. According to our guide for the afternoon, Tek, about one million people live on the lake, most in houses that float on pontoons so that they can be moved to wherever the water is throughout the year. Many of the villagers are Vietnamese who came up the river from the Mekong Delta long before the Vietnamese war and who fled (or perished) during the Pol Pot regime and returned again after the regime’s demise in 1979. Here are the tour boats at the departure point, and one en route.

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As we were racing along, a small boat with a family pulled up next to us, and one of the young sons grabbed his way onto our boat in order to sell us soft drinks or water. Here he is on our boat, and here he is returning to his own. This lad should emigrate and start a career as a Somalian pirate.

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Some scenes as we traveled through one of the Vietnamese villages. Homes:

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Here’s a “spirit house” put up by the cooperative of local fishermen (fishing is the major industry here) where offerings are made to ensure good catches:

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A communal help center. Shades of Pol Pot, the sign on the side reads “Charity Rice to Help Poor the People.”

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And here is the entry to the lake proper. The cell phone tower is newly built. Beyond it you can see the vast lake, whose far shore (now at its time of near maximum extent) is too distant to see.

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We traveled through another village. Here, a “big boat” restaurant.

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A primary school.

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And a Catholic church and school.

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On the way back, another pirate youngster tried to earn cash by showing off his snake for photographs. I gave him a 500 Riel note (about 12 cents) and he and his enablers grudgingly sailed off.

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On the way back to our hotel in the bus, in response to questions, our guide Tek

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unfolded yet another horror story of the Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge years.

He was thirteen when the regime began. A city dwelling high school student, he and his family were sent to the countryside. His older brother was imprisoned because he had some education. During three months in prison, the brother was fed almost nothing (prisoners tried to survive by catching and eating insects that flew into their cells). Finally one of Tek’s sisters managed to “talk” the warden into releasing the brother. But he was so weakened by starvation that he died shortly after returning to the family.

Food in their village was cooked in communal kitchen. Each day’s meal was a thin gruel of rice. Many people died of hunger. Private cooking was forbidden (as was smoking in the village, because it could indicate a cooking fire using stolen rice from the communal fields).

During the dry season, when rice was scarce, to thin the excess population, people were routinely murdered. Tek survived by managing to get a job cutting wood in a distant forest during three dry seasons. The forest, which was terrifying to him at first, became his “friend,” as he lived alongside boa constrictors, boars, and other wild creatures.

Eventually, Tek saw that married men had a better chance of staying in the village and not getting killed than single men. So he and his wife married, along with nine other couples in a ceremony conducted by their “group leader.” When the regime was overthrown in 1979, many of the couples went their separate ways. Tek, a city dweller, offered his wife, a country person, the chance to return to her village with one of their two daughters, but she said, “You are my husband, I’ll stay with you.” They have since had four other children, all boys. Tek is another survivor of one of the grimmest periods in recorded history.

Our day ended with cocktails and a festive dinner on the Apsara Terrace of our hotel. A striking troupe of Cambodian dancers (male and female and dressed much like Thai dancers with large, spiked golden helmets) entertained us. No pictures since I left the camera in my room.

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DAY 13, MON., NOV. 11

Departing Siem Reap, we were greeted by our wonderful team of flight attendants in native costume. Here, again, is lovely Margrét Gunnersdötter in Cambodian dress:

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En route, I delivered a lecture on Indian religion and caste, and introduced the history and cosmology of the Taj Mahal. Four and a half hours after departing, we landed at a military base near Agra (avoiding the half-day bus trek from Delhi) and were whisked to the Taj Mahal. The streets were filled with bustling scenes of Indian life, which not all of the travelers were as enchanted by as I was. And, of course, the wandering cows:

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Security at the Taj is formidable, motivated one presumes, by the recent atrocities in Mumbai, and included a total body pat down, as women and men entered in separate lines. Here is a tough young (Sikh?) guard:

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The Taj is as beautiful as it is reputed to be, although it is unfortunate that one feels compelled to actually enter it, with its central chamber densely packed with tourists and with little of interest besides the two empty cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jehan.

Some views of the Taj.

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The Taj stands besides the Yamuna river.

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Some scholars have argued that instead of resting in The Taj (with its off center cenotaph for him), Shah Jehan planned to build a mirror image building on the far shore, covered with black marble. This has recently been disputed, but it is an evocative idea.

Back to the jet, we returned eastward for 50 minutes to land in Jaipur. While our stay here would take us to interesting sites, the real star of the visit was our hotel, the Rambagh Palace. Still the palatial residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur, a large section of it is managed by the Taj chain as a luxurious hotel. Pictures here will repeatedly touch on its grandeur. As one who has traveled long distances in India by train and stayed at very modest hotels (Matthew—my son—do you remember our fleabag in Jalgoon?) this was another universe.

Here we are being greeted at our evening’s arrival:

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And here the indoor and outdoor swimming pools:

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Guest rooms were no less palatial. Here is a glimpse of only a part of my suite: the rest could not fit into the picture.

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Sleep came easily at the end of this travel day, although the Malarone I and others are taking now as protection against upcoming malaria risks in Tanzania produced some vivid dreams. In one I was surfing on twenty-foot high waves in the middle of the Atlantic.

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DAY 14, TUES., NOV. 12

We set out early today for our tour of Jaipur, led by our informative and jovial guide Devendra (a.k.a. “Dave”).

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Within moments, Dave totally justified my introduction and explanation of caste in Monday’s lecture by immediately and proudly informing us that he is a Kshatriya, which, he said, explains his earrings and semi-carnivorous diet (“warriors must be strong”).

We passed the Palace of the Winds, whose many large and small windows were designed to give women of the Maharaja’s harem the chance to witness life on the streets below:

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Passing a snake charmer (the snake is actually defanged) . . .

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. . . and as gaggle of Indian tourist ladies . . .

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. . . we entered the City Palace, the Maharaja’s royal residence, which, like many of Jaipur’s buildings is painted in the special pink of this city:

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At the heart of this complex is the famed Jantar Manar, an elaborate astronomical observatory built in the mid-nineteenth century. Its mammoth instruments are designed to track time, solar equinoxes, and the movement of constellations through the heavens—all to inform astrological readings to guide royal decision making (a peculiar but all-too-typical fusion of early science and religion). Here is the huge sundial:

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Here, a smaller sundial showing time to the second:

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And here an array of devices each of which tracks the movement of stars through their various astrological “houses.” I’ll spare you the photo of me posing as an archer in front of the one for Sagittarius.

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Afternoon was a series of visits to various jewelry and fabric centers (Jaipur is a center for both forms of artisanery and for the processing of rare gemstones). Not too much of interest here, although I did check some items off my gift list.

The real treat, which ended our visit to Jaipur was a festive evening at the Rambagh Palace. This began with a stimulating lecture by Vivian Perez, a local scholar on India’s current political and social situation. Perez noted the many problems facing India, but he also displayed a bit of optimistic nationalism: “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he declared.

Drinks followed, during which the women received shawls and the men turbans. Here are three of our wonderful TCS staff, Leslie Knopfler (on left), Kyle Diercks (Marketing, along for the experience), and Lynn Garrison, the expedition leader, who, along with Leslie and John Thiede, make everything “work.” And, of course, me in my turban:

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There followed a long walk across the property, accompanied by colorfully dressed hotel staff . . .

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. . . to the polo field, where our mounts awaited for a full game of elephant polo.

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Another wonderful Indian buffet dinner . . .

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. . . and then dancing under the stars as late as our 7 AM departure would permit:

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What to say? Outside the walls, life went on as always in the heat, dust and squalor of India. Our stay in the Rambagh Palace was hardly an accurate introduction to this country, but as one who has traveled through the heat, dust, and squalor (popping Cipros tablets for unavoidable intestinal disorders) and hopes to do so again, it was a pleasure for once to get inside “the palace walls.” Maharaja for a day. I hope in the future India will continue to prosper, and many more Indians, both natives and those from the vast Indian diaspora, will enjoy this place as a site for their weddings and other special occasions.

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DAY 15, WED., NOV. 13 NGORONGORO CRATER

Greeted once again by our flight attendants (now in beautiful saris) we departed Jaipur for our long (7 ½ hour) flight to the Kilimanjaro airport.

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Our route took us over the Arabian Sea, down the coast of Kenya, and then a sharp turn to the southwest into Tanzania. On landing, we divided into two groups for the final leg of our trip on bush planes, with the largest group going to the open plains of the Serengeti and the smaller one (about 12 people, including me) going to a very small airport about 80 kilometers from the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.

The road trip up to the Crater Lodge took about two hours. Passing through one town, I snapped this photo of two side-by-side enterprising commercial ventures. (The one on the left says, “Mr. Barack Mobiles.”)

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Our destination, Ngorongoro Crater is a large caldera (collapsed volcano) about 20 kilometers in diameter. To get to the Crater Lodge, we had to transit half the circumference of the caldera on unpaved roads, quite a bumpy and dusty ride in our Toyota Landcruisers . . .

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but because the ridge of the caldera towers 2,000 feet above the crater floor, we sometimes had extraordinary views of the crater as we proceeded.

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The entire crater constitutes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), a multi-use zone where Masai herders are permitted to live, while strict protections exist for the wildlife and the environment.

We received a warm welcome at the Lodge, with many “Jambos” (Hellos) from the staff. Dinner was served immediately, so there was little time for picture taking, but I managed the following. The first is a picture of the huts that constitute our residences (two huts form a single dwelling). The crater is just beyond. We are at an altitude of 7,500 feet, so the chimneys are for small fireplaces that are lit at night to take the chill off the rooms.

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Here is the bedroom that greeted me (I couldn’t capture the crystal chandelier overhead):

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And, here in my second hut, is the bath and shower (to the left):

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Dinner was served in the main lodge. This is its terrace, overlooking the crater,

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and this, the dining room:

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Following dinner, as night descended, each of us had to be personally escorted back to our room lest we have an unhappy meeting with a Cape buffalo or a lion. (Over dinner, we signed indemnity agreements freeing the management from responsibility should we end up being dinner ourselves for some wild animal.) Walking down the pathway to my small lodge in the dwindling light, I managed to quickly pull my iPhone from my pocket and capture this final photo of the day:

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DAY 16, THUS., NOV. 14, INSIDE NGORONGORO

Today was our day to descend to the crater floor, a set apart realm containing thousands of animals of many species. Dividing up into several Landcruisers, our group had to transit along the crater ridge to the down going road on the far side. Unlike the crater floor, the ridge is well watered and somewhat forested. This zebra found it pleasant:

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Down on the crater floor, our driver, Steven, opened the roof of our vehicle to permit us to stand and take photographs.

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Unfortunately, my small Leica camera, so easy to carry and generally useful lacks a telephoto lens, so some of my photos have had to be digitally zoomed, reducing quality. These shots of warthogs, an ostrich, a Cape buffalo (said to be one of the most dangerous animals in the crater) and a hyena illustrate the problem:

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At a bathroom stop, a vervet monkey managed to snatch some food off the hood of a nearby Landcruiser. Here, he  looks back with a measure of contempt:

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Sometimes we got close enough for my camera to do its thing, as this photo of a wildebeest shows. Wildebeests are among the most numerous animals both here and in the Serengeti. They are a major food source for top predators like the lion. Not a lovely species, but apparently a very successful one.

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In a small wooded area below our track, I snapped this beautiful serval cat

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And this elephant with its baby:

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Passing a length of reeds in a watered area, we saw this lazy fellow:

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Traveling on, we encountered many of the ruminants that provide lions with their food. Not far away, a placidly grazing herd of zebras. The brownish ones are either females or younger males:

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A Grant’s gazelle . . .

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and a Thompson (“Tommy”) gazelle

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Finally, in small pool made by a brook, a herd of hippos:

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We returned to the Lodge for lunch and then, at 3:00 PM, a smaller group of us visited a nearby Masai village. As we walked toward their fenced in compound, a group of men greeted us

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As did the chief

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and a group of women

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One of whom is tending her infant

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The men put on a dance exhibition (marked by enthusiastic solo jumping) . . .

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Showed off their elegant “Michelin” sandals:

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And skills of twisting sticks until there was enough heat to start a fire:

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The visit included a tour of a Masai wood and cow dung home:

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It ended after a display of Masai tourist goods. This woman was obviously skeptical of our claim that we could pay no more for some trinket:

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The day ended with a fascinating lecture before dinner by Ingela Jansson of the Serengeti Lion Project.  Ingela (a Swedish woman) described the efforts the project is making to stabilize the declining populations of lions in this region. Among other things, this involves tracking lion movements between the Serengeti and the crater (using GPS collars) and also assessing the lions’ physical and reproductive health.

The Project is making a major effort, as well, to persuade the Masai to protect the lions. Traditionally, a male Masai came of age by spearing and killing a lion. Lions also attack the Masai’s cows, an additional reason why the Masai have hunted the predator. (Ingela reported that not long ago, she was tracking a collared female when her computer showed the animal stopping and then moving rapidly away. Going to the site, she found the lion dead and its collar gone. A group of Masai were sighted in the distance running off with the collar.) But the Masai realize that they and the region need a stable and healthy population of lions. Building on this, the Project has recruited the best lion warriors of the Masai and given them responsibility for monitoring and protecting their own groups of lions. These individuals are dubbed “Lion Defenders,” a title and honor that they seem to greatly value. Thus, masculine courage and knowledge of this species is being redirected to the animals’ protection.

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DAY 17 and 18, FRI.-SAT., NOV. 15-16, PETRA, JORDAN

Most of Friday was spent traveling from Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania to Petra in Jordan. The journey took us around and down the Crater rim, back to our local airport, and from there to the Kilimanjaro airport. Departing, I took this shot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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It was a 4 ½ hour flight northward across central Africa, over the Sudan, and then up the Gulf of Aqaba into Aqaba, Jordan (that is the Sinai on your left).

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During the flight, I lectured on “Petra and Nabataean Civilization.” (The next day, I was pleased to see what I said confirmed by our actual visit to Petra.) After landing, a two-hour bus trip north brought us to Wadi Musa, the village adjacent to Petra, itself a UNESCO world heritage site.

On Saturday morning we were up and out early for the short walk from our hotel to Petra’s entrance. Passing the “Djinn Blocks” (possibly an-iconic representations of one or another of the Nabataean gods) . .

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. . . .we met some guards wearing cheesy plastic helmets who were said to represent the “original guards of the site,”

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(this can be dispensed with) and entered the Siq. This three-quarter mile long cleft in the mountain is a tunnel in stone that protected Petra and made it a secure site for the construction of royal and other tombs by the Nabataeans.

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In addition to a long water-channel running the length of the Siq, we also encountered niches and bas-reliefs devoted to the gods on the walls, notably this one dedicated to Dushara, the high mountain god associated with the Nabataean royal lineage. Dushara, at the head of the Nabataean pantheon, is usually represented an-iconically, as in the simple block in this sculpture:

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Halfway through the Siq are the remains of a bas-relief of a camel with its minders. The meaning of this carving is unclear. Is it a representation of the merchants and their beasts whose trade in myrrh and frankincense made the Nabataeans (312 b.c.e. to 363 c.e.) wealthy? Or is it one of the animals brought for sacrifice to Dushara at the high place altars above the city? My lecture had touched on these questions, but the answers remain unclear.

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Suddenly on rounding a bend, the Siq came to an end, and there before us was the beautiful “Treasury” (Khazneh). This misnamed site is one of the impressive rock-carved tombs for which Petra is famous. This photo only hints at the complexity of its many adornments.

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Look for example, at the many small blocks that ring the cupola:

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Just past the treasury, as we walked toward the vast open area that is Petra’s city center, is the theater, with its 45 rows of seats that could accommodate 6,000 people (the niches above are rock tombs  whose completion was interrupted by the building of the theater).

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Back over my shoulder was a magnificent collection of rock-cut tombs on the mountain wall above.

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And ahead, moving westward, lay the colonnaded main street with its three sites: the Great Temple to the left, the  barely visible Temple of the Winged Lion on the hill at the right (a semi-an-iconic representation of Dushara’s consort, al-Uzza or Allat, was found here), and straight ahead, the imposing walls of the Qasr al-Bint, misnamed as the Temple of the Pharaoh’s daughter (a result of a late and faulty legend), but actually the chief temple of the city and dedicated to Dushara.

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At this point, one of the guides volunteered to lead us to the Qasr al-Bint by a round-about path on hills to the left of the picture above. I followed, a nearly fatal decision.

At one point, as we neared the Qasr, the pathway became a narrow ledge. The path ahead of the people at the center was no more than 6 feet wide, and to their left was a 200 foot drop down a rocky gorge (which you can see as lighter colored rocks beyond the gray boulders). As I reached where they are, I slipped on a pebble, and fell toward the edge. I would like to say that my entire life flashed before me, but all I could first think about was possible damage to the camera hanging from my neck. In an instant, however, I realized I was a foot or two from tumbling over the edge.

14-LEDGE

Fortunately, I slid no further, and with help and only minor bruises and cuts, I picked myself up. From that point on, I continued along the path, clinging to the rock wall to my right. Ahead of me on the narrow path was a traveler shaking in fear who had to be nudged around the bend, and further on, another traveler who slipped and fell as I did. In all a terrifying experience, the surviving of which made my day. Being alive never felt so good. In the future, I hope our guides are warned that this side excursion may be too demanding for mature (read: older) travelers.

You would think that after this close call, I would stay on the flat and level. But following lunch at a pleasant restaurant next to the Qasr, we had the option of ascending to the second great site at Petra, the rock tomb of ad-Deir, “The Monastery” (another misnomer). This involved a climb of 750 vertical feet—800 steps up pebbly ground. Assured that there were no sharp drop offs (which turned out not to be entirely true), I had to press on, as did about half of our group. Here we are ascending:

15-STEPS TO MONASTERY

And here, at last, with aching legs and panting lungs we reached the ad-Deir, certainly worth the climb.

16-Ad DEIR

Our group briefly gathered for a photo . . .

17-Ad DEIR

. . . when someone proposed a further scrambling ascent to high places above. From one of these, to the west, one could, like Moses at nearby Mt. Nebo, catch a glimpse in the distance of the Promised Land.

18-HOLY LAND BEYOND

And below us, in the center and distance, the ad-Deir:

19-MONASTERY

The descent, though faster, was no less punishing than the ascent. (As I write a day later my shins still hurt.) We emerged from the stairway beside the Qasr al-Bint. Here you can see the arch that stands before the Holy of Holies.

20-QASR AL BINT

Walking out I couldn’t resist taking this snapshot of a fully modern donkey-taxi driver on his cell phone.

21-DONKEY DRIVER

Having now walked about six miles and climbed up and down 800 steps. I accepted sharing a horse carriage ride back up the Siq with our physician, Dr. Maya Fehling. In retrospect, neither of us was sure that this fast bumpy ride across jagged Roman paving stones was any better than the three quarter mile hike.

With an hour’s rest, we all re-gathered for a brief lecture by Alan Mann on “Agriculture: The Beginnings of Civilization,” a talk well suited to the larger region around us and to the north where agrarian  civilization began. Following this we departed in buses for Taybet, a restored traditional village and restaurant famed for its Jordanian cuisine (it was a favorite of King Hussein and his American wife, Princess Nor).

22-TAYBET

Greeted by traditionally dressed musicians  . . .

23-MUSICIANS

. . . we dined on Jordanian mezze and roasted lamb. Returning to the hotel stuffed and exhausted, I didn’t even take out my Kindle, my usual bed-time accessory, but dropped into bed for 7 hours of dreamless sleep.

I’ll end this entry with a few words about Jordan. Overall, I was greatly impressed by the friendliness and modernity of the people. In many ways, Jordan is similar to Morocco: a modernizing Islamic constitutional monarchy, with established rights for women and minorities. Here, as in Morocco, is one of the many posters celebrating the royal (Hashemite) lineage.

24-MONARCHS

Not depicted here, but on some other posters, is the youngest in line, eighteen-year old Hussein II, who, I was told, is now a student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. This continues the educational practice of his father Abdullah II, who studied at Oxford and Georgetown. The culture as a whole seems slightly more Bedouin and less urban than Morocco’s, although that may reflect our distance from Amman. (The next morning, on the way to the airport in Aqaba, we stopped and took a two-hour detour by Landcruiser to the heart of the desert, where we had tea in a Bedouin tent.)

25-DESERT

26-BEDOUINS

Throughout, I was impressed by our guides’ constant references to the nearness of Israel and the relative ease of movement back and forth. Sadly, they also reported on the enormous fiscal and other strains being imposed on Jordan today by the Syrian civil war and the over one million Syrian refugees now on Jordanian soil. Aid from the U.S., the U.N. and the Gulf States is helping, but this population is still a huge burden. The guides also lamented that the Syrian conflict and the turmoil in Egypt have reduced tourism to Petra and other sites by 80%. Preparing to depart for Morocco, I reflected on how important it is for our own country to support this progressive Islamic state.

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DAY 20, MON., NOV. 18; DAY 21, TUES. NOV. 19 FEZ, MOROCCO

This will be a brief entry because I have at once too much and too little to say about our visit on Monday to Fez, one of my favorite places in the world. “Too much to say” because I could go on and on about how unique Fez is. In my lecture on the plane yesterday, “Fez: Islamic City,” I detailed the many ways in which Fez is a real, working, traditional urban center. “A time machine,” I called it, stepping into which transports you back a thousand years to how life was lived in most cities of the world. “Too little” to say” because I will not repeat the contents of that lecture here, other than to show one picture of an artisan caught in passing as he sewed embroidery on a djellaba:

1-FEZ

What makes Fez so different from many other exotic destinations, is that nothing is contrived. This is how the three hundred and fifty thousand residents of this city live and work.

I was especially pleased that our travelers were able to see this. For the first time on the trip, we toured in the rain, but far from marring the experience, it seemed to enhance it. Everyone had the feeling that they were experiencing the city “as it is” with its people and its puddles. In three groups we did the mandatory circuit down the Talaa Sghira (the smaller main shopping street), and then digressed into back streets to visit some homes (dars) and garden-mansions (riads). We peered into the Qarawiyyine Mosque, walked through the metal workers’ souk, and sampled hot bread just out of the oven of a working bakery.

A highlight for me was seeing guides/friends from previous trips. The head of the guide team was Seddick Aassim, who served as tour director on the alumni trip I accompanied last year. Also present were the local guides, Ahmed and Cosmo, that I had come to know during Mary Jean’s last program here. So the whole experience was a reunion. My Moroccan friends seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them.

At lunch back at our exquisite hotel (the Palais Jamais overlooking the medina) I responded to requests and agreed to lead a small group on a personal tour of the city. I asked Seddick if he could appoint Cosmo to help me avoid losing someone in the crowds at markets and shopping streets. Highlights of our tour included a visit to Monsieur Driss, my favorite Sufi plate engraver. Fred Diehl, my fellow lecturer and Dr. Kin Lam, a traveler and oncologist from New York, bought beautiful small plates. (I received no commission!). Also included on the tour were a stop at the Perfumerie Médina in the henna souk (whose owner, Rachid, was interviewed during a visit here last year by my friend Richard Stamelman for a travel article Richard was writing on Fassi perfumes); a walk through the teeming and fragrant Bab Recif food market; a quick stop at the tanneries; and another at the weavers’ souk. Fred took this shot of our little group in front of my favorite dried fruit and nut stand (Cosmo is in the middle in his djellaba):

2-FEZ MEDINA

At this point, Cosmo had to return to assist with the larger main group, so I took over and on my own got us safely back to the hotel. Everyone agreed that, in retirement, I should become a medina guide.

Our gala farewell dinner took place in the evening. The expedition leader, Lynn Garrison, offered a wonderful summation of our journey,

3-LYNN GARRISON

Reviewing the many sites we had seen. Lynn observed that one of the things that made this trip so special was the enthusiasm of the quests/travelers. Since this trip was incredibly expensive, before we left I was worried that the travelers would be elderly and conservative (in spirit): that they might resist the adventure of visiting challenging sites or be repelled by the dirt and backwardness of some of the places we would visit. But just the opposite was true. Perhaps I should have expected that talented people willing to invest so much in a trip around the world would be enthusiastic travelers. They were. I wish I could show pictures of all these exciting people and convey the enjoyment of our experiences by so many of them. Perhaps an iPhone shot from two nights before, taken at our Taybet, Jordan, restaurant can convey something of this. Here are Joe and Kathi Costello who showed up at dinner with clothing they had picked up at Petra during the day:

4-COSTELLOS

At the gala, the flight crew was present, and during the cocktail hour, I snapped this shot of our Captain, Geirprúdur Alfredsdóttir. She’s on the right.

5-PILOT

In a conversation with the captain I learned that she has 9,000 flight hours.

For the gala dinner, I was able to invite two Fassi friends, Abdellatif  and Amal Jai. Here are the two of them, and me with Amal and the whole group:

6-JAIS

7-AMAL & ME

The Jais joined my table for dinner. Following the mandatory performance by the belly dancer (who has put on a few pounds since I photographed her performance during last year’s alumni trip), . . .

8-BELLY DANCER

. . . our evening ended as other table guests conversed with the Jais, asking about how they manage to fit in and perform the five daily prayers. It was a small seminar on comparative religion, with a first-hand report of experience by two devout Muslims. Just the kind of learning opportunity that travel provides.

Tuesday morning, we swept through passport control and security to meet our beautiful women cabin attendants in festive local dress:

9-FLIGHT ATTENDANTS

As we got underway, passengers were invited to visit the flight deck, a treat no longer available on commercial jets. Here is a view of the instrumentation of our plane, the vista of the Atlantic out the front  window following our refueling stop in the Azores, and the Captain, once again, in her flight outfit.

10-FLIGHT DECK

11-FLIGHT DECK

12-PILOT

 En route, the second captain, Magnús Brynjarsson, gave us some statistics on our flight. The earth’s circumference is 21,600 nautical miles, but with side excursions, we covered 28,813 nautical miles. We flew over six continents and spent a total of 70 hours in the air, 35 of them over oceans (the Pacific, Indian, and the Atlantic). We consumed 264 gallons of water and 110 gallons of alcoholic beverages, ate one 2300 pounds of food (I fear I ate a good part of that). All together, the cabin crew each walked a distance of 137 miles, and we consumed 85,000 gallons of fuel. That’s a lot of petrol, and a lot of carbon put into the atmosphere. Clearly, the world cannot afford to send very many of its citizens on a trip like this. But I am glad that such a trip exists for some, and I am especially grateful that I was able to experience it once in a lifetime. I’ve loved travel all my life. As I said in my opening remarks to the group, I’ve yearned to see places like Machu Picchu, Easter Island, and Angkor Wat since reading books like Kon-Tiki or watching news reports of Jackie Kennedy’s tour of Angkor’s temples. So this trip was a dream come true. I have put this effort into my travel narrative in the hope that by recording my first person account, others can participate in this extraordinary experience.

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