Tom's Travel Highlights

Washington, D.C., United States of America

  1 » 2 » 3 » 4 » 5 » 6
Washington, D.C.

Beijing, People's Republic of China

  1 » 2 » 3 » 4 » 5 » 6 » 7
For part of the trip, I stayed in the executive suite at the Novotel Peace Hotel with panoramic views of the city, Tiannamen Square, and the Forbidden City.

Beijing still inspires awe, both in its historic elegance and in its rapid modernization. The quaint, skinny hutongs are quickly being cleared to make way for large-scale buildings and high density housing. The advantages for residents include indoor plumbing, reliable electricity, and for some, indoor pools and homeowner associations.

Dispel your past images of a developing country. Beijing, like Shanghai, offers all the fast-paced and groovy excitement found in cities like Paris, London, and New York, complete with an underground live jazz bar. While numerous residents may not have indoor kitchens or plumbing, there are plenty of luxury cars and minivans wedged tightly in the narrow streets; hip and stylish clothing; and all the coolest gadgets you can imagine. It's no wonder that there are over 30 Java mobile phones offered in Beijing with at least 6 of them developed in China.

In June 2003, China loosened airspace restrictions for flights between North America and China. Previously, there was only one cross-polar route into the country and airlines had to seek approval for changes 6 months in advance. The new flights really didn't get put into practice until Sep, 2003 because of SARS. The airspace changes, approved by Russia, Mongolia, China, and the US, now allow three cross-polar routes with changes possible up to one hour before take-off. I think we took either the new cross polar route 2 or 3 from Chicago in a northern arc on the "North Bridge."

In route, we found ourselves amazingly close to the North Pole when light was still sufficient to see the vast expanse of frozen ice stretching in all directions. Allegedly, we could see the "pole" out our window. For those interested, up around the pole above 82 degrees latitude, planes use high frequency (HF) communication. The signal is repeatedly reflected from the earth's surface and ionosphere.

Tibet, Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China

  1 » 2 » 3 » 4 » 5 » 6 » 7
Tibetan monks prepare for evening meditation and chanting. My Tibetan translator grew up with these monks so I got to see the joyful side of monastery life - wrestling and joking.

Lhasa is the heart of the political and religious action in Tibet. The first impression -- every street lamp advertising China Telecom and its mobile cell service. Modernization is here in so many ways. Within the past three years, the western end of town has literally doubled the size of the city and offers army/military installations, Han Chinese-run stores, dense apartment buildings, a Chinese-specific marketplace, modern multi-story megaplexes/skyscrapers, and more being developed. This is where you can find all the top autos and construction equipment being sold - Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi, Tomaka, Jeep, etc.

We stopped at one village with solar power and a satellite dish, compliments of Belgium. They had a common pipe for water and terraces for growing crops to feed their herds. Goats roamed the village streets, narrow passages tying together houses of mud bricks and stone. Only a handful of the families could afford to send the kids to school but nearly every kid could read.

The three things this remote village wanted most were: 1) a paved road 2) everything and anything for the school and increased education 3) cleaner and more accessible water. Several adults needed dental care for abscessed teeth. The locals see a paved road as a way to improve the quality of life through access to markets and the ability to bring goods back to the village. It would allow them to sell their goods at a higher price, grow their herds, and accomplish their prioritized goals as set by the village council with input from the community.

If you decide to go, pack a few gifts in your bag. I highly recommend taking at least one soccer ball for the local school. All school supplies are needed! Other good gifts of friendship include shoes in good condition, wool clothing, and warm gloves.

Peru, South America

  1 » 2 » 3 » 4 » 5 » 6 » 7
Drinking an Inca Kola while overlooking Machu Picchu. Inca Kola is very sweet and tastes a bit like bubblegum.

Peru, like Tibet, is steeped in history, mountains, folklore, legend, and riddles. The land is populated by generous people who demonstrate unwavering faith and determination. Thank you again to all the people who made my stay in Peru AMAZING!

Peruvians would like to disseminate the truth behind a popular reference….there is only one "Inca" - the ruler of the Quechua people. As such, "Inca" only refers to a single person, not a culture.

Machu Picchu is the mysterious city of the Quechua people, unknown to the Western world until 1911 when Hiram Bingham was escorted by local Quechuans to a dense jungle area rumored to have ancient dwellings. As one of ten UNESCO World Heritage sites in Peru, Machu Picchu is recognized both for its natural and cultural significance.

Rising above Machu Picchu is Waynu Picchu mountain. At its summit is a carved rock chair, perfectly aligned North-South. You can just imagine a tribal elder sitting there watching the heavens and plotting astronomical events. Today, orbiting satelites cruise overhead providing GPS and international phone service from within Machu Picchu (13°10'S, 72°33'W) but in such an awe-inspiring place, sometimes you just need to turn the phone off.

Had a near close-call with a wild animal. Some locals told us it was the threatened Spectacled Bear. Another local suggested that it was a very loud feral cat. Either way, on a deserted stretch of the Inca Way with the sun setting, we weren't about to go jumping into the jungle or inviting the visitor closer to find out. Who knows, maybe some mischevious Peruvian boy is still chuckling over that one.

Mexico, North America

  1 » 2 » 3 » 4 » 5 » 6 » 7
Whale watching along the Sea of Cortez offers the chance to enjoy the sun and to see the largest and most varied population of whales in the world.

Traveling Mexico by land is an inspired adventure. From San Ignacio to Isla Mujeres, you'll be treated to starry nights, great food, unforgettable sunsets, musica de Mexico, and endless festivities.

Spent a wonderful Christmas with the Tarahumara in remote Copper Canyon, where a cold snap froze the nearby waterfall. As the sun heated the ice, large chunks broke off and crashed down with the fury equal to that of a crashing surf. The Tarahumara specialize in hand-woven textiles and pine needle baskets. Some of the sellers hike over two hours up the canyon in the morning to get to the market.

In Baja, you can find some of the best whale watching, as well as the most outstanding collections of rock paintings, in the world! People, animals, and entire scenes, painted c. 100 B.C. to A.D. 1300, are preserved in detail due to the arid landscape. You will need an official INAH guide in order to see the paintings. The rates are fixed and established by the INAH. Funds help preserve and maintain the site. Flash photography is allowed but you are not allowed to use reflectors, lights, or similar devices. Help keep the area pristine - pack in/pack out.

And of course, what trip to Mexico could be complete without the beaches and Mayan ruins? Tulum, a Mayan fortress located in the Yucatan, is a worthwhile day trip if you are in Cancun or Cozumel. For those interested in exploring the cultures of Mesoamerica, take a visit to see the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán in Northwest Mexico, one of the region's most important commercial and religious centers A.D. 300-900.

Other Adventures

Other adventures include Europe, Russia, Central America, and the Caribbean.