Category Archives: Adventure

Travel Adventure Humor

World’s 6 Greatest Rowed Trips

 

Since before the Phoenicians, rowed trips have been one of the world’s great travel adventures. Rowed trips promise sea air and vigorous exercise, either while journeying solo or in the company of up to 50 or so like-minded individuals, all often moving to the beat of a locally-renowned drummer. What more could you ask for? Except maybe the occasional breather, and sip of water. Here are six rowed trip favorites.

 

 

ancient-Greek-ship-argo
                                                                                             BigStock Photo

Jason and the Argonauts’ Golden Fleece Rowed Trip

One of history’s first rowed trips, the 1300 B.C. voyage of the Argo was in pursuit of a ram’s fleece Jason had to capture in order to reclaim a usurped kingdom. It forms the basis for what may be Western literature’s oldest retelling of a hero’s quest.

Route: 1800 miles from Iolcos, in ancient Greece, to Colchis, a no longer existent kingdom on the Black Sea.

Vessel: 50-oared galley named the Argo.

Highlight: As often happens in this kind of tale, things didn’t work out all that well in the end, with a timber from the Argo falling on Jason and crushing him to death. On the other hand, he did get to marry a king’s daughter, and journey beyond the edge of the known world.

viking-ship-rowing
                                                                                                             Eaton Creative Photo

Leif Ericson’s American Rowed Trip

True, he sailed part of the way from Greenland. And the Indians lining the shore were in agreement that he did not actually discover the North American continent. But it is certain that Leif Ericson explored at least some of America hundreds of years before the first camper van was even dreamed of.

Route: About 2,000 miles round-trip from Greenland to “Vinland,” probably on what is now the Northern tip of Newfoundland.

The vessel: There’s no reliable record, but it was probably a dragon-headed Norse long ship that could maneuver under sail or with up to 50 oars, making it ideal for the New York Yacht Club’s annual cruise to Maine.

Highlight: Knowing that because he’d arrived 400 years ahead of Columbus he could almost certainly count on having a place to park anywhere along North America’s East Coast, even in summer.

 

river rowing boat
                                                                                                                        Bigstock Photo

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Rowed Trip

A two-week rowed trip (elapsed time discrepancy noted) in 1839 that resulted in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, a collection of writings by Henry David Thoreau that generations of American readers have found even more difficult to get through than Walden.

Route: 126 miles from Concord, Massachusetts to Concord New Hampshire, and back.

Vessel: Fifteen-foot fisherman’s dory Thoreau and his brother built themselves, in a week. It was a remarkable achievement, considering that the book took ten years to complete.

Highlight: In the short term at least, the rowed trip, along a tranquil, slow-moving river, was a far greater success than the book — 706 of the first 1,000 copies published going unsold.

 

Samuelsen Harbo ocean rowing boat
                                                                                                              Public Domain Photo

First Modern Transatlantic Rowed Trip 

In 1896, clam diggers Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo were the first since Leif Ericson to undertake a rowed trip across the Atlantic. Without even the assistance of a drummer, they made it in 55 days.

Route: 3,740 miles from New York City to the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of England.

Vessel: 18-foot double-ended Sea Bright skiff

Highlight: They survived.

 

Roz-ocean-rowing
                                                                                                            Rozsavage.com Photo

A Woman’s Three-Oceans Solo Rowed Trip

As time passes and more and more has been done before, it becomes harder, even in the annals of rowed trips, to make one’s mark with a singular achievement. That said, in 2011, Roz Savage became the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

Route: Canary Islands-West Indies-California-Papua New Guinea-Australia-Mauritus.

Vessel: 23-foot unsinkable rowboat with sleeping cabin.

Highlight: Savage was able to listen to 62 audio books.

 

Erde Eric ocean rowing
                                                                                                               Erdeneruc.com Photo

A Man’s Three-Oceans Solo Rowed Trip

In 2012, a Turkish-born American named Erden Eruc went Roz Savage one better by combining a rowed trip with a hiking and cycling journey to circle the world under his own power.

Route: 41,196 miles starting and finishing at Bodega Bay, California. Not a person to rush things, Eruc took just over five years.

Vessel: As are the craft of most modern ocean-going rowed trippers, his was lightweight, self-righting, and unsinkable. Getting perhaps less credit than it deserved, the 24-foot vessel had twice crossed an ocean even before he owned it.

Highlight: Not having to repair bicycle tires.

 

blue raft on river
                                                                                                                         Pixabay Photo

Plan Your Own Rowed Trip

No affiliation at all with them, but the adventure travel company Oars offers rowed trips on rivers and seas around the world. If anyone should ask, we find the Wine Tasting on the River Adventures especially suited to our skill and interest levels.

BobCarriesOn.com editor in chief Bob Payne has himself been in many rows

 

Top six reasons to travel with the dead

 

If you hope to learn anything about the world, going solo is by far the best way to travel. But if you must travel with others, I recommend the dead. An incontrovertible fact is that when they travel the dead seldom:

Argue about the hour of departure.

Insist on a window seat

Pout if a restaurant is not of their choosing

Wear board shorts when visiting sacred shrines

Use a calculator app to split the check

Take selfies

Among the dead, writers are favorite traveling companions. Their words are already out there, allowing you to decide in advance if their sensibilities are compatible with your own. But their corporeal selves usually remain conveniently entombed, making them not overly concerned about such issues as who gets the room with the view.

For a ramble through France, for example, Robert Louis Stevenson makes an excellent traveling companion. His Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes, the story of a 12-day walk through southern France in 1878, is largely about the shortcomings of traveling in company. Although in his case the company is his donkey, Modestine, who, frustratingly for Stevenson, is in no more of a hurry to reach their destination than Odysseus had been to reach Ithaca.

The irony is that despite the abuse Stevenson heaps on Modestine for not being focused enough on their goal, Travels With a Donkey contains the declaration that almost more than any other has been used to define the essence of travel:

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

For journeys through the Arab World, there may be no better traveling companion than Freya Stark, although she usually went alone. A constant traveler and prolific writer, her words, even more than Stevenson’s, make you want to walk out the door:

“Surely, of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.”

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world.”

“I have no reason to go, except that I have never been, and knowledge is better than ignorance. What better reason could there be for travelling?”

To really understand Stark, though, the kind of traveler she was, the kind of journeys she would want to take you on, it is necessary only to read these few lines from The Valleys of the Assassins, published in 1936:

“. . . the country seemed to be thick with relatives of people he had killed, and this was a serious drawback to his usefulness as a guide. . .”

A guide to a far stranger land, and possibly someone you should not travel with alive or dead, would be Hunter S. Thompson, whose Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas might or might not serve as a traveling companion for a journey of your own. This one little scene should be enough to help you decide:

“There’s a big … machine in the sky, … some kind of electric snake … coming straight at us.”

“Shoot it,” said my attorney.

“Not yet,” I said. “I want to study its habits.”

If you should find yourself traveling with Thompson the most important thing to remember is:

Don’t post selfies.

 

On Pacific island of Niue, cave explorer happy at prospect of breaking only arm

Travel humor writer Bob Payne’s  discomfort with climbing, especially up a cliff face or down, has never caused him to freeze like a cat in a tree. Or at least not enough so that someone had to come rescue him. But Payne did get close on Niue, an isolated South Pacific island whose inhabitants claim that Captain James Cook’s visit in 1774 demonstrated that he probably knew much less about human nature than he is generally given credit for.

Cook’s crewmembers were the first Europeans to step ashore on Niue, which is about 240 miles east of its nearest neighbor, Tonga. The visit wasn’t a happy one. Cook got such a hostile reception he named the place “Savage Island,” which long discouraged later visitors and was still in common use as recently as the early 1900’s, when Niue became a dependency of New Zealand, which it remains, except that it is now internally self-governing.

But a local at the bar of the Niue Yacht Club, an establishment most notable for the fact that it could claim no members who had yachts, told Payne that far from being savage, his ancestors were enlightened enough to be worried about the introduction of disease into their isolated society.

“OK, maybe Cook met a few warriors who painted their teeth red to make themselves look like cannibals. And maybe there was some spear throwing. But probably all that happened was the usual challenge between strangers, which he didn’t understand.”

And, said Payne’s informant, further proof of how little Cook understood people occurred at his next stop,  Tonga. There, after he unknowingly came close to being served up for dinner, he named the group The Friendly Islands.

Payne couldn’t argue. Partly because his informant was most likely right. And partly because it is seldom benefits a travel humor writer to contradict a South Seas islander who has been drinking New Zealand larger all afternoon. But while Cook may have misunderstood the Niueans (he himself admits he was there long enough only “to judge of the whole garment by the skirts”) he did not miss the one physical aspect of Niue that has most fascinated visitors ever since, and which would bring together an opportunity for two of the experiences that often enough make Payne wish I were safe at home: rock climbing and caving.

Niue does not fit the image of a classic South Pacific paradise. As might be expected of an island whose name, loosely translated, means “Hey, look, coconuts,” there are palm trees. But, as Payne had discovered during his first few days, after renting a motorbike from a smiling woman to whom liability insurance seemed only the vaguest of concepts, there are no soaring green peaks. No shallow blue lagoons. No white sand beaches. No ports for cruise ships. No Club Meds.

Instead, Niue is an ancient coral atoll, about 40 miles in circumference, that was uplifted some 225 feet by long ago movements of the earth’s crust. All the way around, it has a relatively narrow, cliff-girded coastal ledge. On the ledge is the coastal road, mostly surfaced, and a few small villages, including the main village, Alofi, where in the Burns Philp store Payne found a 40-page mimeographed guidebook (publication date October, 1994) with the interesting statement that “Records show we haven’t eaten a tourist for almost seven years now.”

Above the ledge, an escarpment rises to the top of the island, which is a broad plateau that was probably once a shallow lagoon. The plateau, often hot and airless, is less than awe inspiring. But beneath it, as Cook had discovered, is a netherworld of caves and chasms, many of them unexplored in modern times.

The most interesting was at Vaikona, on the rough, windward side of the island. And it was there, in an attempt to reach a chasm that has been called the jewel of Niue, that Payne found himself clinging by his fingernails (and heartily wishing all the while that he didn’t bite them) to a slight outcropping of rock high up on the side of a damp, slippery cave wall.

With another local, Richard Sauni, Payne was trying to climb down to a crystal clear pool 60 feet underground, where they planned to dive in, take hopefully deep enough breaths, and, with the aid of waterproof flashlights, swim through a submarine tunnel to another pool.

Payne remembers that their swim fins were sticking out of the top of Sauni’s backpack. And he remembers hoping it wasn’t a portent that they made him look like he was wearing angel’s wings.

“Be careful,” Sauni said from a perch just ahead of mine. “If you fall you might break your arm.”

Peering down over the heel of his right shoe into a blackness so complete he could see nothing but his life passing before him, Payne suggested to Sauni that if he fell he would be enormously delighted to break only an arm.

From the cave roof, where stalactites hung, water dripped on Payne’s head. He realized it had been some time since Sauni had moved along the wall. “Uh, Richard,” Payne said. “Are we OK in here?”

“Maybe it is better for us to be outside, having lunch.”

With some prompting, Sauni told Payne that because it rained recently, harder than he realized, water seeping through the porous coral rock had made the cave walls dangerously slick. Also, the most difficult part of our descent, around a big rock that fell from the roof in some long ago volcanic disturbance, was still ahead of them. And, hopefully unrelated but certainly not uninteresting, a tremor of respectable magnitude had shaken the island the day before Payne arrived.

Out in the sunlight again, sitting at the edge of a sea cliff, having lunch, Payne was disappointed that they’d failed to reach the pool. Still, it did mean he wouldn’t break even an arm, or have to be on the lookout for the other features of Niue that visitors most comment on — its abundance of deadly venomous sea snakes.

Travel humor writer Bob Payne is believed to be one of two lifetime members of the Niue Yacht Club, an honor bestowed upon him as the result of activity the U.S. government investigated as possibly involving money laundering.

Best adventure travel books for encouraging readers to stay home?

A recent survey by the travel writing website BobCarrieson.com has found there is currently far too much coddling of readers by publishers of travel books.

“Just look at what’s out there,” said Bob Payne, who is the Non-E-Book Editor for BobCarriesOn.com. “Happy Herbivore Abroad, Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World 2013, Glamping with MaryJane. If travel publishing is to survive, what you want are adventure titles that inspire people to stay home, and read,” Payne said.

“For proof of how egregious the situation is, consider that a book about a mountaineer’s adventures in Kashmir, which included death threats and a kidnapping by people who may have been Taliban, is titled Three Cups of Tea, which sounds like it ought to be shelved with Happy Herbivore,” Payne said.

Among Payne’s recommendations for classic titles that encourage readers to remain in the easy chair are:

In Trouble Again, by Redmond O’Hanlon

During a four-month journey among primitive people in farthest reaches of the South American rainforest, the author of In Trouble Again finds himself in the dire situation of having ingested an hallucinatory drug that is making the women of the most violent men on earth start to look good to him.

The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

No doubt to overcome the burden of having such a wussy name, this young English gentleman joined Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911 expedition to the South Pole. It was an expedition that Scott, despite his far more heroic-sounding moniker, did not survive. What Cherry-Garrard discovered during the expedition was that Polar exploration is “the most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.”

The Valley of the Assassins by Freya Stark

Freya Stark was a fearless Englishwoman who usually traveled solo though many of the most dangerous parts of the Arab world, including the journey chronicled in The Valley of the Assassins, to Syria in 1927, to a “part of the country where one is less frequently murdered.”

No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi

The story of adventure in its purest form, No Picnic on Mount Kenya involves three Italians who broke out of a British prisoner of war camp in Africa in 1943, climbed Mount Kenya with home-made gear, then, not sure what to do with themselves next, broke back into the camp, where for their efforts they each received a week in solitary confinement.

Jaguars Ripped My Flesh by Tim Cahill

As this is a collection of short pieces written mostly on assignment for Outside magazine, Jaguars Ripped My Flesh doesn’t have the narrative power of most of the other titles on Bob Payne’s list of recommendations, but as Payne himself has spent nights alone in the South American rainforest, listening to the distinctive cough-like sound a Jaguar makes, the title has for him a certain “What am I doing here?” resonance.

The Fearful Void by Geoffrey Moorhouse

With the exception of occasionally coming close to dying of thirst, lice were the biggest threat on this six-month camel journey across the Sahara. Still, lice can easily convince you that you should have stayed home.

BigStock photo.

A journey to the North Pole, courtesy of the same people who gave us Chernobyl

Sometimes, as a traveler, you find yourself in situations whose danger you don’t fully appreciate until later. At the time, what you might be thinking is “How bizarre,” or as happened to Bob Payne during a trip to the North Pole aboard the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal, “The ship was built by the same people who built Chernobyl?”

Here’s a slightly revised telling of one incident from Bob Payne’s North Pole story, which first appeared in the January 1995 Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

The Yamal, which had been converted to a kind of cruise vessel (mostly by painting what looked like the smiling teeth of a very happy killer whale across the bow) ran on a match-book-size supply of enriched uranium, and at some point during the journey to the North Pole a handful of the passengers, possibly the ones who had been asking the most annoying questions, were invited for a tour of its reactor room.

The tour started badly. The Yamal’s chief reactor engineer, speaking through an interpreter, a young woman whose career Payne had already put in jeopardy by teaching her to say “Hold your horses,” began his remarks only to have them interrupted with “Louder please,” from someone in the back of the room. The translator and the chief conferred, then the translator, responded: “The chief asks please no questions till end.”

Passing through the Yamal’s Starship Enterprise-like control room, where Payne inquired, without success, about who might control cabin heat, the passengers were lead into a locker room, where they were given smocks, caps, gloves, and thin rubber boots that slipped over their regular shoes. Each passenger was also given a tiny radiation-measuring device, no doubt like the ones used at Chernobyl, that they pinned to their smocks.

With the rods sticking out of the tops of the reactors, and with some large metal tanks mounted high on the wall, the Yamal’s reactor room itself looked more than anything else like the milking room of a modern dairy. Except you would expect the cows to have two heads.

Payne started to ask something, but once again he was told to hold his questions until later. Which was unfortunate, because he said he really needed to know if it was safe to scratch his nose.

Wofratz/Wikimedia Commons Photo.

 

In Papua New Guinea, going for eggs can turn out to be a really bad idea

One of the appeals of adventure travel is that you can often experience the sensation of danger without actually being in much mortal peril. On the other hand, there are times when you are seriously at risk of doing yourself harm. One of those times was during a journey I took to Papua New Guinea for a scuba diving magazine called Aqua, which at the time was published by the same people who published Islands. The diving was interesting, but not nearly as much as the situations you could get yourself into above the water. Here’s one of those situations, which I wrote about in the introduction to the Aqua story:

On the island of New Britain, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, two small outrigger canoes are moving tentatively toward a beach at the base of a volcano whose last major eruption had covered much of the port town of Rabaul with foot upon foot of thick gray ash and left the town looking like the set for a dystopian film set in a post-nuclear-holocaust.

In one canoe, which is being paddled by a local villager, photographer Darrell Jones is busily snapping away at a thick column of smoke the volcano is pumping into the sky. In the other canoe, which the villager’s niece is paddling, my attention is focused on the niece, who every few strokes of her paddle stops to let her fingers drag in the water, and who appears none too happy with the information this is apparently providing her with.

The niece, I realize, and wish I hadn’t, is using her fingers to test the water temperature, on the lookout for any sudden heating that might presage another eruption. “I’m beginning to think,” I call over to Jones, “that this going for eggs wasn’t such a good idea.”

Earlier the villager had explained to us, in a mix of English and Pidgin that is the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea, that a kind of big-footed bird called a megapode lived at the foot of the volcano, whose underground heat it used to incubate its eggs. The locals gathered the eggs, which was a risky business, he had said, because to reach the eggs they had to dig holes down as much as six feet into the unstable ground. Sometimes the holes caved in, burying the diggers alive, and baking them in the process.

But now, as we approach the beach, the villager is saying nothing — nothing except whatever it is he is mumbling, uneasily, to himself. Some kind of chemical reaction has turned the water near the shore a shade of red that looks much too much like blood. And when Jones and I jump onto the beach, which consists of crunchy, powdery, rock, I can feel intense heat through the soles of my shoes.

“What a strange place,” Jones says to me, as he again puts his camera up to his face. “Could you stand over by that smoke?”

The niece refuses to get out of the canoe. But the villager, who is a man after all, and has something to prove, which is, I suspect, that men don’t have nearly as much sense as women, follows us up onto the beach. The air smells of sulfur, and above us steam is venting from any number of cracks in the volcano’s cone.

“When, exactly, did the volcano last erupt?” I ask the villager, becoming more and more concerned by his nervousness and less and less certain about my assumption that he would not put us in danger simply for the equivalent of five dollars we are paying him.

“Last night,” he answers.