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Friday, 28 December 2012

Travels - Looking Back...

Feeling a little down with post-Christmas blues? I guess you know what I'm talking about: weeks in preparation - buying of presents, Christmas tree, baubles and other decorations and coloured lights, both inside and outside the home. The time and effort spent putting all these up, along with writing and dispatching of cards, and with always the case with cards, you receive one from the only person you totally forgot to include on your list. And it's already Christmas Eve.

Then whoosh! It's all over. The tree, decorations, cards and lights are still all up but all looking somewhat tired. The bins outside are crammed with torn Christmas wrapping paper, together with the ribs of the turkey, along with a few boiled sprouts the children didn't eat. While the kids happily play with their presents before boredom with them begins to set in, you ponder whether the present given to your loved one was really appreciated, or you received as a gift a piece of clothing which was either a horrible colour, does not fit properly, or just plain ghastly - or all of these.

Buying presents for my nieces when they were children was a nightmare, believe me. How does a grown up, unmarried male know what's in the mind of a female child? And not having much cash to boot either? These days I resort to gift vouchers, a tremendous idea thought up by the popular superstore chains, for those of the likes of myself who haven't a single clue what to buy for my grown up female relatives. With vouchers, even though they lack the Christmas glitter, they will always guarantee genuine appreciation!

Christmas comes round every year, and its very much the same, year in, year out. Although I love my nieces to bits, if my brother had a son as well, I would have thought Christmas would have been more to my appeal. Think of the electric train sets I would have bought, and on the day help my nephew lay the tracks, erect the station, position the tiny people on the platform, and making sure there is more than one hand control, and more than one engine, both of us would have raced our trains round and round the circuit. And each year the addition of tracks bought would have slowly turned the simple circuit into a complex layout which would have suited a hobbyist's dream. Lets face it, the only difference between a boy and a man is that a man's toys are more expensive.

Indeed, playing with your nephew's (or your son's) electric train set while Grandfather sitting next to the blazing coal fire smoking a Havana cigar would have made such a dream Christmas so memorable. These would have been special days in the year which would have stood out from the humdrum of a daily routine of working to keep the weekly or monthly budget afloat.

While Christmas can be either a dream fulfilled, or a horrible nightmare with unwanted presents and flaming rows in the household or among visiting relatives, the special day comes round annually at a regular pace. At the time of writing, (on December 28th) I can say,
Oh well, just three hundred an sixty-two days to go, and it will be Christmas once again, yippee!
 - there are days in my life which stand glorious among the humdrum of day-to-day living. The main difference to these days and Christmas day is that these special days can occur only once in a lifetime, and if they indeed fulfilled a dream, those days will hold memories to the extent that no Christmas day can match. I'm talking about my travels, particularly when I was single.

Some of my readers had shown interest in my travel experience, along with my niece. So I thought, while relaxing during the Christmas break, not going anywhere today as the weather outside looks particularly gloomy, I thought a take the opportunity to share one or two experiences here. And this may also be a good time to write, as this is the time of the year when post-Christmas holiday booking frenzy meets its peak. The British public have now turned to the coming summer break, a panacea for the depth of the gloom of post-Christmas blues.

Perhaps unlike Christmas, no two travel experiences are the same, even if the same location is visited more than once. One striking example of this is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. My first visit to this incredible location was in 1978. To get there, I alighted the Greyhound Bus terminal at Flagstaff, as I recall, the only one to do so too, at what I thought was five in the morning. When I checked the time, it was actually four o'clock, as I had already entered into Pacific Time zone, from Mountain Time. I groaned within at the three hour wait at the terminal before a connecting Greyhound bus whisked me to the South Rim, after leaving much of my belongings at a left-luggage locker at the bus terminal.

By contrast, when I visited the Grand Canyon again in 1995, again I arrived at the terminal at four in the morning. But this time the connecting Greyhound bus was replaced by a private taxi service which left at seven o'clock. When the driver finally arrived, I paid him his fee, which by then a group of backpackers, like myself, had assembled in the departure lounge. When the driver made his count, he approached me and asked,

Do you mind if you wait here, and I take the rest to the Canyon, then I return to collect you?

Yes I DO mind! I answered firmly without being rude. I have paid you my fee, you are obliged to take me with the others.

But you will have to sit on the floor, the driver objected.

Okay, I'll sit on the floor. But you are taking me. Now.

Evening view of the Canyon from South Rim, 1995

As in 1978, I arrived at the South Rim in good time to start the hike. But in 1978 I come to learn an important lesson. That is, to never go on a trip of this extent with a cheap camera, or lacking photographic experience. Many of the Canyon photos from that year failed, when I had the film processed after returning home. I was bitterly disappointed.

In 1978 I did not expect to hike the trail down to the bottom of the Canyon, but an opportunity arose when I asked at Bright Angel Lodge about accommodation. Due to a cancellation, a bed became available at Phantom Ranch, right at the bottom, not far from the Colorado River. Without hesitation I bought the ticket. But my mistake back then was that I lingered for too long at the rim, and I did not begin the hike on Bright Angel Trail until late afternoon.

But once started, as the switchbacks making up Jacob's Ladder took me deep below the rim, the clouds gathered above and a thunder growled. August was the most likely time of the year for summer storms across Arizona. It rained a little, but not enough for a drenching. At Indian Gardens, I passed a sign warning of storm floods. Just the sort of encouragement I needed.

Indian Gardens, halfway down into the Canyon, 1995.

After crossing Tonto Plateau, where Indian Gardens are located, the trail descended into the aptly-named Devil's Corkscrew. Here, the trail plunged along switchbacks into the ravine, resulting in gigantic cliffs towering over me, as I head towards the river. As the thunder rolled, this gave me an eerie experience, totally alone in this vast Inner Gorge of the Canyon, but I kept on, as it was also getting dark. As I approached the river, in the midst of the constant buzz of millions of insects, I saw a fellow human enter a hut, and by then feeling ever so lonely, I called out to him.

He invited me into a hut, where a couple more were having a bite to eat. After accepting his offer of a snack, they virtually begged me to spend the night with them in the shed. But I insisted in finishing the hike and I left them with a friendly farewell before setting off, as the river came to view for the first time.

The river came to view for the first time, 1995.

I walked for a while along the river until I came to Silver bridge, one of only two bridges over the river in the entire Canyon. After arriving at Phantom Ranch, which was by then totally dark, I used the ticket to claim a bed for the night. I woke up at around four that morning to begin the return hike soon afterwards, as I was advised at the Bright Angel Lodge the day before.

In the 1995 hike, exactly the same route was taken, and I also had a better camera and greater experience. Also this time I had to carry my full rucksack on my shoulders, as the left-luggage lockers at the Flagstaff Greyhound bus station were all removed by then, most likely for security purposes. I also made double sure that my camera was fully up and running. In fact, that was why I hiked again in 1995. To take pictures of scenery where the first camera failed in 1978. Not was only the photography on the second hike more successful, but I stayed in the vicinity of the river for much later in the morning, giving me views of the scenery I missed out on the first hike in 1978. But added to this, where in 1978 I headed direct from the Ranch to the trail head back on South rim, in 1995, on my way back, I took a detour at Indian Gardens to Plateau Point, which gives fantastic views of the Colorado River, adding three more miles to the whole hike, making it about 23 miles long in total.

View of the Colorado River from Plateau Point, 1995.

I share on how two hiking experiences at the same location and on the same route can also be so different from each other, somewhat unlike Christmas, which each year we expect the same. But travel, especially as a lone backpacker, brings many diverse experiences, each different from each other, yet none are ever forgotten. One reader has already suggested writing a book on my travels, something I would undertake if only a fixed agreement with a publisher can be set up. But unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

These days, as one of a married couple, travel is far more restricted to the Mediterranean, but as a package tourist rather than a backpacker, I still get a thrill of the beautiful places visited, whether natural or historic. Fine architecture can inspire me just as much as a mountain stream, the crashing of the ocean waves on to the rocks or a delicate flower blossoming.

As Psalm 104:24 reads:
O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.

Travel has enriched me spiritually. Yet the above testimony is only a fraction of my experiences overseas. I would advice anyone to travel, especially a Christian. No doubt, you will never regret it.

Especially if you bought your loved one an unwanted Christmas present.

Happy new year to you all.


  1. Hey Frank! GORGEOUS PICTURES! Don and I are talking about going to the Grand Canyon, but I don't know when.

    I did some research on the Cherubims. They were mainly used as guardians for such things as "the Garden of Eden (with the 2 flaming swords), they guarded the Tabernacle, they guarded the Mercy Seat. and so on. They are also mentioned in the New Testament like in Revelations. They are the ones with the 4 faces, (man, eagle, lion, and ox.) I looked up some pictures, and it showed these type, but at the same time it also showed pictures of what looked like baby angels as you said.

    Anyway, I plan on doing some more studying before my post this evening.

    I know that the angels can be portrayed in human form because of the example that was given about the three men, but also because Jesus talks about us entertaining angels unaware, meaning they would look just like us and we couldn't tell the difference.

    God Bless, and Have a Wonderful, blessed and safe New Year.


  2. It amazes me how many people have never even visited interesting places around their own homes and have no idea what others come to see.

  3. Hi Frank,
    hope the last sentence on your post wasn't a personal happening. Not only lovely pictures but a great commentary. I don't know if you kept a diary when you back packed or not but if you didn't then your memory is really good. Reading your posts on your travel makes me feel that I am on the journey myself.

    1. Hi Brenda,
      Thankyou for your comment, as I always appreciate your imput, as with all who post their comments.
      And also thank you for bringing my attention to the last line of the post, which I agree, may need a little explanation to clear up any misunderstanding.
      The last sentence of the post was not a personal happening, that is, the giving of an unwanted item to someone, but a way of finishing the blog with a light-hearted statement which can contain a kernel of truth. In this case, the exchange of an unwanted present bringing disappointment to the recipient, the one most nearest and dearest. The hint in this context is a promise of a coming holiday in due course. This may at first seem far fetched, but I can relate this to a real-life experience I had in early 1978.
      It was a time I rejoiced in the purchase of a Reliant (a three-wheeled car) in the course of learning to drive. However, after driving a few miles in it, the vehicle broke down, and I had it returned to the dealer who sold it to me. I decided to ask for the deposit to be refunded. At first they refused, but Dad and my late Uncle (Dad's brother) stepped in, and the direct debit contract was cancelled and I had my deposit refunded.
      To comfort my sense of loss, I used that money to pay for the return flight from London to New York for August of that year, the very flight upon which this blog is based upon. It was the best decision I ever made.
      During that trip I did write a memorandum, but using it as the source of information for this blog was not necessary, as I remember just about every single detail of that trip which, I hope, this blog was all about.
      God bless,

  4. The Grand Canyon truly testifies to the glory of the Creator. My husband and I were blessed to see it more than 20 years ago and are talking about returning someday, God willing. Just watching the landscape colors change as the sun sets is amazing. We also saw the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii on our honeymoon, which was also impressive but not nearly as spectacular. I can't imagine how anyone can view such beauty and not realize that there is a God. Thanks as always for a thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting post, & Happy New Year to you!

  5. Hey Frank! Thank you so much for your faithfulness in commenting to my blog. Your comments are an encouragement for sure. Since I took that "leave" in blogging it seems that it is extra hard to get the comments coming back. I totally agree with you about "being blessed because we believe without seeing. It's just that so many people say they believe "when it happens to other people" but "it can't happen to me". They need to change their way of thinking. If it can happen to someone else, it CAN happen to me. If they got an angel, so can I kind of thinking. It is sad that people are like that, but I can't help but think that this type of thinking came from our fall from the garden at least in part. Therefore, it takes a spiritual way of thinking instead of human, and that means adjusting your thoughts. I think that even the most spiritually minded person sometimes has a moment where they hesitate, before saying no, I'm not going to think that way, God is in control. He does have angels and they can be sent to help me.

    I hope you and your wife had a WONDERFUL Christmas and will be having a VERY Blessed and Happy New Year.

    God Bless,

  6. Very interesting story Frank concerning the refund on the car. I am sure you have stories that would fill a book.

  7. Hi Frank. Yes I agree with you; sometimes the build-up to Christmas is so overwhelming that we expect it to be wonderful; and when it isn't we can feel kind of flat. I love Christmas, peaceful Christmases, but I have learned to take the day and the festive season in general as it comes, have a nice feed, give and receive a few pressies, and generally hope that there's some nice TV programs on! Life is more than one day in the year and perhaps we should remember that as Christians Christmas is really about our Saviour.

  8. Hey Frank! Thanks for the comment. Yes, the book I just reviewed was titled "Live Second" 365 Ways to make Jesus first. It is an awesome book. Especially for my needs. I have a tendency to get side tracked and start putting my carnal desires and needs ahead of Jesus. This book helps me to put things into perspective as well as getting in my daily Bible reading and actually putting it into a practical application and putting Jesus first in my everyday life.

    God Bless,