Author/Editor Robert Fear runs annual travel writing competitions. One is for Travel Stories (500-1000 words) and the other for Travel Highlights (50-100 words). He publishes the best of these in a book each year.
The Travel Highlights competition (50-100 words) has just finished and is open to a public vote until the end of November 2017. I wrote one about riding a tank through the Israeli desert. Not an easy ride and not an easy task to tell the story in 50-100 words. Hope you enjoy it! Please read through the highlights and vote for your favorites. You can vote for five entries daily. Thanks for your support!
It is a great pleasure to welcome back Susan Joyce with this terrific entry for the 2017 Travel Highlights Competition. Here is her intro to a very special highlight:
As a young American female, I never hitchhiked and never dreamed I might one day need to do just that. While living in the Negev Desert of Israel one scorching hot summer day, I watched the last bus to my village disappear into the distance. I had missed my ride home. Uncertain what to do, I stood at the bus stop on the main highway on the outskirts of Beer-Sheva, Israel and hoped a vehicle, any vehicle, would stop and give me a ride.
When I heard traffic approach, I held up my thumb and begged God to hear my plea.
A Wild Tank Ride Across the Negev Desert!
Beersheba to Arad. Israel, Summer 1971
Missed last bus home.
No taxis or passing cars.
29 miles, 47 kilometers.
Tank barrels toward me, rattles to a stop.
Driver motions. “Climb aboard!
Car stops, offers ride. “Tanks take forever.”
Confused, I wave them on.
An hour later, I hear a raucous scream overhead
“Bomber,” driver yells.
“God!” I gasp.
“Friend!” Driver waves skyward, pats tank. “Soviet from Six Day War.”
Minutes later, second bomber buzzes tank.
Driver again waves.
Friendly fire? Feel faint.
After three hours, we arrive.
Wilted vegetables, melted ice cream.
Shaken, I thank him.
Wild ride! Shabbat Shalom!
In my lifetime, I’ve been lucky to visit off-the-grid places where I’ve experience nature at its finest; far away from the madness and clutter of everyday life. Spaces where I found solitude and experienced a powerful oneness with nature and slept like a baby.
As a child, I often fell asleep on a flat, hot rock in the middle of the Arizona desert waiting for a spaceship to rescue me. I felt certain they had left me in the wrong place with the wrong family.
As a young woman, I made a childhood dream come true when I followed Heidi’s footsteps on a trek through the Swiss Alps. That night I slept in a picturesque chalet, nestled high in the hills above Hergiswil, Switzerland with a stunning view of mountains and lakes. An eiderdown quilt kept me cozy and warm.
I once napped atop the ancient rock fortress of Masada, Israel, after a rugged dawn hike to the top of the plateau. A most delicious rest.
While crossing the Indian Ocean, in monsoon season, much to my surprise sleeps were deep with lots of telling dreams.
I knew I had experienced the most unusual places to sleep in remote locations until July of 2016 when my husband and I toured Peru’s Sacred Valley with a group of other tourists.
Our bus stopped alongside the Urubamba River, near a railroad track, and our guide suggested we get out and look at a structure across the river. He pointed skyward to a strange shape stuck to the pristine mountain side.
“What is it?” I asked.
He said it was a “sky lodge” attached to the sheer rock face—one of three transparent sleep capsules suspended above Peru’s Sacred Valley of Cuzco. Each capsule measured 24 feet long, and 8 feet in height and width, equipped with four beds, a dining area, and a private bathroom with a big window view across the Peruvian landscape. Solar panels powered Interior lighting.
I borrowed a pair of strong binoculars and inspected the strange sight. The pods looked like space ships stuck to the cliffs.
“How do guests get there?” I asked.
He explained. Lodgers must first climb 400 feet up the cliff face—a rough climb, with 400 iron rungs and a steel cable fixed to the rock to help climbers navigate the toughest parts to reach the sleeping pods.
“For the intrepid adventurers,” a fellow tourist remarked.
I could imagine the spectacular views over the cliffs of the mystical valley and the Urubamba River flowing below. To watch stars explode across the night sky would also be awesome.
But I couldn’t imagine the nerve-racking climb, much less a good sleep while dangling from the side of a sheer cliff. What about the roaring winds? I wondered when a strong gust of wind blew past. “And just how does one get down?” I asked.
“Zip-lines, seven hair-raising zip-lines,” a fellow tourist (in the know) chimed in.
For foolish thrill seekers. I shuddered, shook my head no, crossed my heart for the thrill seekers, and crossed the sky lodge adventure off my bucket list. No dangling sleep necessary.
Excerpt from Susan Joyce’s book in progress Journeys—Short Travel Stories from around the world.
My husband, Doug, and I flew from Lima, Peru (sea level) to Cusco, Peru (Elevation: 11,152′) on July 12th, 2016 with a group to visit ancient sites in Peru and Bolivia.
The plane landed, doors opened, and oxygen got sucked from my lungs. I gasped for air. My vision blurred. Dizzy, I clutched seat backs and handrails to exit the plane. Doug extended his arm for support but he also struggled to breathe in the thin mountain air.
I knew altitude sickness could affect people and that it can be dangerous; even lead to death. Since I had hiked high mountains without problems, I figured I was low risk. The risk is low if one increases altitude in a gradual way. The risk is high if one climbs over 1,600 feet per day. And we climbed to an elevation of 11,152 in one hour and twenty minutes.
A world traveler, I didn’t expect complications but took high altitude pills for four days before. Just in case. The pills can cause minor side effects; tingling fingers, a strange taste. Better than dead.
A bus took us to our hotel in the historic district of Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. We checked in at the desk and climbed the staircase to our second-floor room. My eyes teared non-stop and my left eye throbbed in pain. I clung to the banister for guidance. Not far, I thought struggling to catch my breath with each step. When we entered our room, we collapsed on the large firm bed. Exhausted, I assured myself I had mild altitude sickness (AMS). I’d be fine once I acclimated to the high altitude.
We met our group in the lobby later and discussed our various symptoms. Some travelers had headaches, others earaches, one a bloody nose. Lucky me; a throbbing eye. No blood.
Our local guide pointed to small bowls filled with coca leaves in the dining room and suggested we chew the leaves. He explained how coca is an essential part of life in the Andes. A South American plant, coca grows wild in the humid foothills a
We joined others in a welcome ceremony to connect our souls with Mother Earth and spirit guides. Inca tradition. In the meditation, I imagined my eyes healed; with bright vision again.
When the ceremony ended, we received gifts and our guide explained the spiritual meaning of each Incan symbol. I chose a dark wooden cross on a leather cord. He said it was the “Chakana” (Tree of Life) and provided protection. Incas used the “Chakana” to decide everything important in life. Doug selected one from light wood which represented purification.
After the ceremony, we walked along the old stone streets of the historic capital of the Inca Empire (13th-16th century). I wiped my teary eyes and stepped with caution as I listened to the ancient history of the region and the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. The Spanish destroyed most of the Inca structures and built new ones on top of the old.
Our guide explained the evidence of great builders before the Inca and pointed to the megalithic walls at the base. The stones on top of the granite were typical Inca rectangular shapes which resembled polygons. Adobe mud, used as mortar covered the rough stones and held them in place. The Spanish built walls of straw, adobe mud, and painted the rough surface. Spanish walls looked sloppy by comparison.
I touched the smooth massive boulders at the bottom; the ancient walls. They varied in size and shape, yet joined, edge to edge in a perfect fit, interlocked without visible gaps and without mortar to hold them in place. My fingertips danced across the even surfaces and the rounded corners of the gigantic megalithic boulders.
Doug pointed to a Puma figure and a snake in the granite shapes. Our guide showed us a condor figure higher on the Inca wall.
Next we visited the holiest site in Incan mythology; “The Coricancha.” I rested my eyes and listened to our guide tell us the history of the religious complex; the center of the Inca world. Built to honor the creator god, and Inti, the sun god, it housed shrines to the Moon, Venus, and other weather deities. The vast astronomical observatory had a device to calculate movement of the earth with ceremonies conducted round the clock.
When the Spanish conquered Cusco, they described the temple as “beautiful beyond belief.” Then they stripped its gold and treasures and sent them back to Spain. After demolishing the temple, they built a cathedral on the site. Earthquakes have destroyed the cathedral but the ancient temple foundation remains intact.
Next stop was the Cusco Museum of History. Tattered documents and ancient artifacts told the story of the various stages of development of all invaders who inhabited Peru.
A wooden bench, on the porch, beckoned me. It looked to be on the same floor level. But when I took a step, I stumbled and almost fell because I couldn’t judge the size or the distance of the step. My depth perception was gone.
We returned to the hotel for an early dinner, then to bed for a good night’s sleep. We tossed and turned for long hours, then realized coca is a strong stimulant. No rest for the weary. Chew and brew did us in.
But, when on a tour, the show goes on and we joined our group for another day of exploring more ancient sites.
Do artists create works because they are producing objects for future generations to view? Do writers write to inspire and influence others? Or, is creative work conductive to our happiness? Our purpose? In my interview series with creative people, I hope to find answers as we explore the creative process and motives.
Today I welcome Author, Artist, Poet, Cook, and Traveller, Syd Blackwell to my Why Create? interview series!
Syd Blackwell is a native of Rossland, BC (Canada), a tranquil mountain town that was once a booming mining town. The peace of nature, and the remnants of history were instrumental in his formative years. He became a teacher and worked in schools and colleges for twenty-five years. These work years were interspersed with acting in amateur theatre, and planning set and sound work. Syd co-authored an historical atlas, wrote poems for a collection called Life Is A Poem, became a weekly newspaper columnist, featuring the local bridge club, created a newsletter for high school student recruitment, and wrote many published articles.
When Syd retired from teaching, he helped design a bed and breakfast inn and became the innkeeper of Wintergreen Inn in Revelstoke, BC.
I first met Syd and his wife, Gundy, when my husband and I visited Uruguay in 2009 to see if it would be a good country to move to from Mexico. As we pulled into their front drive, in Atlántida, Uruguay, I noticed a “hand-painted” sign on the gate. “Casa Inspiración.” I heard dogs bark, welcoming us, and thought, Ah, interesting people! That was eight years ago and we continue to marvel at the lives of these two curious and creative souls.>
Susan Joyce: Syd Blackwell, thanks for allowing me to quiz you regarding your life and various projects! How did you meet your wife Gundy? Why did you move to Uruguay?
Syd Blackwell: In 2002, I was an innkeeper. A woman bought a small B&B on the other side of Revelstoke. A couple of months later, she phoned to ask if she could meet me to ask some questions. I agreed. When she showed up at my inn, dressed in a black business suit, carrying a black attaché case, I hid my amusement. She had found it difficult so far, and sought experienced advice. Possibly my first suggestion was a more relaxed wardrobe. During the discussion, I learned she was single. Later, I suggested that she needed to know the area better to provide service to her guests. Then, I invited her to join me on my daily dog walk. And then things progressed.
In 2006, we came to Uruguay on a two-week trip seeking a quicker medical solution than Canada could give for Gundy´s deteriorating hips. Before we came, we checked out online house listings between $40,000 and $65,000. One, seemed much better than others. We thought we might look, if we found time. Well, we found time to look at several houses, and the one we had seen, with three bedrooms, carport, closed barbecue area, swimming pool, and perimeter fence, for $45,000, was such a remarkable deal that we agreed to buy at once. Five hundred dollars from an ATM started the process. So, we found ourselves on the plane heading home with the realization we had, de facto, decided to sell our businesses and retire to Uruguay. Quite a surprise, really! Later, Gundy got her new hips.
Susan Joyce: You taught art and music. Do you play a musical instrument? Do you sing?
Syd Blackwell: I took piano lessons as a child, but was never very talented. I played French horn throughout high school, but never since. Even the shower shudders when I sing.
Susan Joyce: The shower shudders? Oh dear! What did you learn through teaching? Did it change you?
Syd Blackwell: The most daunting challenges become smaller when you take the first step. Teaching forever changed me. Although I left teaching, teaching never left me. In this century, reconnecting on the internet with dozens of former students, has been most enjoyable.
Susan Joyce: I’ve observed, through your written works and art that you always tell a story. Did teaching help you develop storytelling?
Syd Blackwell: I think teaching provided more stories. I have always felt a need to tell stories. For example, in junior high school, we were tasked with writing a story and then reading it aloud in front of the class. A horror for most. At my turn, I began my story of “the life of a penny”. I already knew it was longer than most had written, but when the first funny line appeared, and the class laughed, I improvised more than what was on the page. I got top marks for presentation and a few questions later from Mr. Buchanan, about all the missing bits from my written copy.
Susan Joyce: Quite impressed that you have visited nearly fifty countries over the years. Which is your favorite and why? Which is your least favorite and why?
Syd Blackwell: I could make a case for one country to answer both questions, but as I only visited two places in Indonesia, Bali and Jakarta, it would hardly be fair. Besides, the Bali I knew doesn’t exist any longer. My favourite country is Canada. It is so amazing and big and diverse, but, as I am Canadian, I will pick New Zealand, which has abundance and variety of natural beauty. My least favourite is also the smallest, the Vatican. I don´t think this is the place to discuss why.
Susan Joyce: In your travels, did you have any dangerous situations? Any scary moments?
Syd Blackwell: Quite a few of both. One dangerous encounter was in New Delhi. I was weak, recovering from hepatitis, and doing an evening walk in a narrow street near my lodgings. I was being pestered by persistent people trying to sell things. One kept grabbing at my shirt as I tried to ignore them. Hepatitis doesn’t help your patience, and after the second or third warning, I turned around and hit him in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Well that wasn’t the right thing to do, as an angry crowd instantly materialized, screaming, yelling, and threatening. I had my back against a wall and worked my way as quick as I could back to the corner and a busier street, where the crowd dispersed.
Of the many scary things, climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia was terrifying; I have acrophobia. I wrote a poem, Vertigo Australianus.
Susan Joyce: One fun thing I’ve learned is that you judged the annual Amsterdam Cannabis Cup. What year? How did this opportunity arise? Was it a fun assignment? Did you write about it?
Syd Blackwell: In 2001, I decided to celebrate my 55th birthday. On the internet, I found that the 13th Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, would nearly coincide with my November birthday. I invited my friend, Byron, who had helped at my inn, to join me. Soon, another friend, Phil, decided to come. We landed in Amsterdam on my birthday. The Cannabis Cup, involving judging marijuana and hashish samples from 22 different coffee houses, began two days later, and lasted four days. There was private bus transportation between coffee houses. There was also a trade show and nightly musical acts. Anyone who paid the $200 fee could become a judge. It was fantastic – as far as I can remember. I have told the story often, but not written it.
Susan Joyce: Why do you make art? Why do you write?
Syd Blackwell: I create because it makes me feel good. I am happy when others can also see and share in my pleasure.
Susan Joyce: Your walking sticks are awesome! What projects are you working on now?
Syd Blackwell: I already have too many Travel Stories and Travel Highlights for entry into Robert Fear´s newest contest, yet I just wrote another one today. Check out Red Shoes by Syd Blackwell.
No new mega-projects happening, like last year´s privately circulated Uruguay Days, a book of poems and photos.
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Our travels this year took us to ancient sites in Peru and Bolivia! An amazing journey!
We visited the Paracas History Museum and inspected dozens of elongated skulls and other from the Paracas, Nazca, Wari, Cincha, and Inca cultures. I swear some of those skulls looked alien to me.
We flew over the Nazca Lines in a small 12 seater plane and inspected the mysterious ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. We had a bird’s eye view of hundreds of figures,made of straight lines and geometric shapes etched in the surface of the desert pampa sand. Most clearly visible from the air, our pilot did wing dips, side-to-side, so we could have the best possible views and click some super snapshots. We did.. The best-known geoglyph is “The Astronaut” at 32m in length discovered by Maria Reiche in the 1960s.
We travelled by boat to see the uninhabited Ballestas Islands. Rich in marine life, the islands are home to sea lions, pelicans, Peruvian boobies and Humboldt penguins. On the way our boat captain detoured to give us a closer look at a huge geoglyph in the form of a candelabra that sailors in ancient times used as a coastal reference point. The Candelabro, almost 500 feet high, is a bit of a mystery. Theories abound about who created the figure and why. I was satisfied with the most scientific sounding explanation — aliens.
On July 12th, we flew from Lima (sea level) to Cusco (Elevation: 11,152′) When the doors of the plane opened, I felt as if life got sucked out of me. Most others on the tour also experienced high altitude shock in one form or another. Unfortunately my vision became impaired. Fortunately, with time, it is slowly improving. According to my ophthalmologist, I have a macular pucker in my left eye. Bet the aliens didn’t have that problem.
And the highlight of 2016 for me was climbing to the top of Machu Picchu, Peru.
The 2017 Edition of Travel Stories and Highlights is now available on Amazon. This updated version has 50 stories and 50 highlights selected from the 2015 and 2016 competition entries. Despite almost doubling in size, the Kindle version is still only 99c/99p. Incredible value!