Journey Jotters

Bitten by the travel bug

Six months into the pandemic and with no clear end in sight, the first stirrings of restlessness assail the mind. It’s surprising that I haven’t found myself in this state sooner. Perhaps a chance to enjoy life closer to home, spending time in my budding garden, swinging in the backyard, or uncovering local secrets has kept me grounded. Every day I come across fantastic photos on my social media feed. Beaches, mountains, rivers, sunsets, glaciers, canyons, lakes, deserts, night skies: they dance across my phone screen in a kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes, and colors. Always alluring, always beckoning. So near, one can almost hear the waves lapping at the sand or feel the heat reflecting off the sands or breathe in the refreshing crisp of the mountain air. And yet, for all that these photos and videos feed us our daily dose of travel, they are frequent reminders of our inability to travel and how tethered we are to our homes, which serves to worsen the sense of restlessness. It’s the first time in years that I have nothing big planned (well, except for a quick Thanksgiving getaway, but that took little planning).

rocky beach with teal colored water and vegetation rich headland
Western Knysna Head, South Africa

So today I figured one way to alleviate that disquiet would be to plan big for the future. What if I put together a list of travel aspirations to attempt in the years to come? After all, most of our trips happened in my mind long before they took place in real life. The only difference would be putting them all down on paper, which I haven’t done before. Of course, as with most things in life, they may all come to be fulfilled, or perhaps only a few, or maybe none. But I do believe that thinking, researching, and planning them will keep my mind occupied and out of trouble. And make me strive harder to realize them in the future. With that in mind, I present my seven travel aspirations, in no particular order. Some are goals set long ago, while others are new. Each will require different resources, different facets of planning, and different budgets. Some may be achieved in one stroke; some may need repeated visits. Some may require physical endurance in addition to mental stamina. But all are equally valued and anticipated with eagerness.

Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Last year I came across a travel podcast featuring WHOA Travel. Founded by two women who met while first climbing Kilimanjaro. WHOA travel seeks to encourage and empower women to travel to Africa and other places, push them beyond their comfort zone, seek new adventures, and support local resources sustainably. Thus providing valuable support to the local economy. I thought this would be a fantastic adventure to try with some of my girlfriends. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. JJ had a similar plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with his buddies. At just over 19300 feet, Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and comprises of three volcano cones. The trek to the summit can take anywhere from five to eight days and will be a test of one’s mental and physical endurance. It’ll also be a time for endless reflection, forming lifelong friendships, gaining valuable insights into new cultures, languages, and ways of life. The physical hardship doesn’t bother me. The mental fortitude will be a bit more challenging. I don’t know how this one will go down, whether we travel with friends or just the two of us, but this is a biggie. And one where we will need to invest time and money, to educate ourselves, to get physically fit for the climb, and to deal with the mental calm required to see the climb through. But what a great joy it will be, to be sleeping under the stars, to climb higher and higher each day, every step leading closer to the summit. And the final grueling ascend to the very top!! I can envision myself there, and it gives me goosebumps to imagine it!! Read this article from WHOA travel FAQs, and here are a first-timers’ tips for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Complete a long-distance train journey

Trains are endlessly fascinating. When we were children, many of our summer vacations started with a train journey. I loved the thrill of watching the train make its way into the station, with shining eyes looking at the train face, eager to get in and start the journey. To this day, trains, to me, signify the dog days of summer, meeting cousins and aunts, of times at the beach, and movies run on video cassettes. Of course, the world is a much larger place than I knew then. And there are hundreds of train journeys that happen every day. One day soon, I dream about being on one of these long-distance trains. Although not luxurious, can you imagine a Trans-Siberian Railway journey, from Moscow to Vladivostock, a week’s travel, covering a massive 5772 miles? Imagine the variety of travelers one can meet, the stories that can be shared, the political, economic, pop culture discussions, and debates that can be had on such a journey!! Simply mind- boggling!! Or perhaps a four-day, 2704 mile journey on the Indian Pacific line in Australia traveling between Perth on the west coast and Sydney in the east! What a great way to view the Aussie outback! Or contemplate a ride on the California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville (San Francisco), the US’ s longest train journey in the US at 2438 miles. It takes about 52 hours to complete this one and treats guests to fantastic views of the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada ranges. The choices are endless!

train ride in Ooty, India
Nilgiri express, India

Visit all the continents of the world

Although we have managed to visit all the continents once, the seventh is still languishing on my aspiration list. Antarctica has long been calling my name. Unfortunately, the kids haven’t found it fascinating enough, and Mr. JJ hasn’t found it cost-friendly enough to merit a visit. For now, I am patiently biding my time. In a few years, we will be empty nesters, and then not only will I be able to visit Ushuaia, but I can fulfill my longtime wish to complete the journey across the Drake Passage to this glorious continent. The journey may not be comfortable at all times, but it will be interesting. And one of a kind, for sure!!

Explore India

If there is one country that merits a thorough visit, it’s India. Its length and breadth are filled with a rich tapestry of color, sounds, tastes, textures that assail and allure the senses, all at once. Rich with an abundance of people, natural beauty, history, religion, technology, and architecture, this is a land of complexities. Visiting India is like peeling an onion: the more one peels, the greater there is left to peel. There are so many nooks and crannies, so many edges and folds to discover, explore, and ponder in this great nation. We have made a few trips here and hardly begun to scratch the tip of the iceberg! Whether it’s the beautiful state of Kerala, God’s own country, or the temples of Tamilnadu, the alluring Western Ghats, the beaches of Goa, or the Northeast’s natural beauty, there is so much to see and do here. This is one of those countries that require repeated visits. Better yet, I think we should consider living there for a few years while we crisscross and discover the country.

Visit all the US national parks

This aspiration is one of my newest ones. There are 420 units under the US National Park Service, of which 62 are termed National Parks, like the Grand Canyon, Acadia, Arches, etc. First signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916, the NPS celebrated its 104th birthday recently. The goal of the NPS is to “conserve the nation’s natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of current and future generations.” Like visiting UNESCO sites when we travel, I plan to start searching for National Parks and other National sites, monuments, etc. We have seen a few, but that list is very minimal and doesn’t include biggies like Yosemite or Yellowstone. Understandably, National Parks are vey much the top distractions to combat pandemic fatigue. Like exploring countries and continents, this aspiration will take time to accomplish, just given the sheer vastness of the task.

Caldera at the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
The caldera at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Hike the Inca Trail in Peru

The Classic Inca Trail or Camino Inca starts from Kilometer 82 of the railroad from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. This 43-kilometer (26 mile) stretch covers some important archeological sites before ending at the ruins of Machu Picchu. The route is covered over four days, trekking across different lush forests and subtropical jungles before reaching Machu Picchu at sunrise on the 4th day. The access to this trail is restricted, guides are required and trekking permits must be obtained well in advance. Much like Kilimanjaro, a team of locals help to smooth the way for trekkers. Our last trip to Peru was in 2014 when the children were still young; we were new to South America. We decided not to pursue the trail then. We saw several trekkers in the distance as our Vistadome train sped to Aguas Calientes, but that was as close as we came to the Camino Inca. Since then, trekking the Camino has remained a top goal for Mr. JJ and me. Here is a resource page for the trail.

Follow the historic Oregon Trail

This summer, I read a novel set in the mid-1800s where the heroine is one of the pioneers that moved West, along the historic Oregon Trail. 400,000 people, men, women and children made this 2000-mile trek across the US’s western half to reach the Oregon valley. Of course, some people turned south to Salt Lake City, Utah, and others to California. For these pioneers to survive the trek, riding in wagons, braving all that nature had to throw at them (not to mention other human beings), is a testament to their determination and ever-abiding hope for a new and better life. Like my heroine, most started their journey from several points in Independence, Missouri before walking across Kansas. Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Through the book, I joined them on the treacherous journey as the wagons forded rivers, took refuge from rains and storms under their wagons, washed, cooked, lived, loved, and hated on the trail. Women gave birth on the road, men and women died of fever and diarrheal diseases. People fell in love and were married, people lost spouses and were widowed. They were set upon by thieves or raiding parties, learning to stand together and defend themselves, they learned to deal with crime within the group, delivering justice swiftly. Some became leaders; others remained followers. They sought refuge and provisions at the many forts along the way, Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, Fort Hall, Fort Boise. They eagerly followed with their eyes faraway landmarks like Courthouse Rock, Scott’s Bluff, or Independence Rock. And stood amazed as they passed by them. To this day, portions of the original trail have deep ruts from the many wagons that traversed this area. I can only imagine what a sense of beauty and awe those plains, rolling hills, and mountains must have evoked in the weary traveler. What a sense of pride in such vast and fertile a land. What tense moments, fear and anxiety, crossing the Platte and Columbia Rivers, might have provoked. I read somewhere that of the 400,000 who set out on this trail, about 5% did not make it. That’s quite a staggering success then! In 2011, journalist Rinker Buck and his brother set out to retrace the steps of this arduous and historic journey in a covered wagon. Much like the pioneers. You can read all about his experiences in his book, “The Oregon Trail, A new historic journey.’ While I don’t see ourselves as quite that resourceful or adventurous, we will plan an exciting road trip recapturing this great migration’s essence.

So what big plans and travel aspirations are you dreaming of?

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