The Travel Bug (ewwwww!)

The question which comes up most frequently when traveling is “why?” Why do you do it?  What – or who – gave you the “travel bug?”

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Sure, my parents took us on road trips – a tradition for many families in the 1970s it seems – to places like Mount Rushmore or the Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City, but that wasn’t it. While I have fond memories of those journeys, none of them made me think “wow, I want to do this some more.”

Maybe I was too young, or maybe sharing bonding moments with my siblings was more important.  As always, it is the small moments from those days which stick in my memory: riding giant tortoises at some so-called “zoo” in South Dakota, stopping in the middle of the Badlands – just pulling off the road – so we could use the strange rock formations as slides (I ruined a pair of pants); my brother accidentally knocking my eyeglasses off my face at the top of the roller coaster (instead of ending a couple hundred feet down, they miraculously landed in the lap of the person seated behind us).

So what was it that infected me with wanderlust? It was another small moment: the arrival of the U.S. mail. It was sometime in the late 1970s, and my father’s latest issue of “National Geographic” had arrived and there, in full color glory on the cover, was Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel in Peru, re-discovered by explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. I said to myself “Cool! What’s that? Must go see!”

(I searched the internet for that magazine cover, only to repeatedly run afoul of National Geographic’s requirement that I sign up for a free account and let them post to my Facebook friends on my behalf. I don’t appreciate websites which force such things upon me, especially when I’m providing what amounts to free advertising on their behalf. Hear that Nat Geo?)

It took many years for me to eventually make my way to that Peruvian mountaintop and, yes, the catalyst of 9/11. Many people took that tragedy as a sign they should do those “one of these days” things they’d been postponing: get married, go back to school, take a dream vacation, etc. I was in the latter group. In the years preceding 9/11, I had received several brochures from Lindblad Expeditions advertising a cruise to the Galapagos Islands – with a side excursion to Machu Picchu. I would always toss out the old one, file away the new one, and say “one of these days.”

Soon after, it really was one of those days, and I was taking what everyone calls the ‘postcard picture’ of the Inca ruins with Huayna Picchu, its sister peak, in the background, similar to what graced the magazine cover back in the 1970s. It was everything I had hoped for, well, except for later dropping my camera two meters down the side of Huayna Picchu. The sound of breaking glass is not what you want to hear from your camera. (Thankfully, the film roll was safe in my pocket.) Here’s a tip: when you’re sitting on the top of a mountain, make sure you actually have the camera strap in your hand when you stand up.

You might say I didn’t quite follow the right path to Machu Picchu. After all, it wasn’t a National Geographic tour group. Lindblad, however, led my footsteps back in that direction when they formed a partnership with Nat Geo in 2004. So I came full circle without even trying. (No, I didn’t get to ride the giant tortoises in Galapagos. It’s illegal.) Although, I suppose to truly come full circle, I should invite my father to join me in a return to Machu Picchu – if he could ever be distracted away from Europe.  After all, it was his magazine subscription, so my catching the travel bug is all his fault.

Now I just have to figure out who infected me with the writing bug.

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