By Heinz and Inge Jaeger
We just love to travel! To see and experience other countries, landscapes and people is a never-ending thrill for us.
We are retired, and we want to see as much of the world as possible, learn how other people live and think, taste different foods and smell the aroma of native markets.
But, we also need comfortable hotels, we want to be assured that the food in a restaurant is safe to eat, and we expect reliable transportation between different destinations.
Wherever we go, we need a local guide and interpreter, because even with the seemingly limitless information available from the internet, arriving in a strange country whose language we do not understand and who’s writing may be in strange characters, is a daunting experience.
Thus we have joined other like-thinking folks on organized tours with one of the many Adventure Travel Companies. Over the last 20 years we have been with them to some 50 foreign countries. Each trip had a prearranged itinerary and at least one guide. We had the assurance that we would see and experience what was promised, we did not have to waste time looking for a suitable place to eat, a knowledgeable guide showed and interpreted the sites, and help for any eventuality was available.
One may say that so much predictability removes the thrill of facing the unknown; that is quite correct but when we spend big dollars to visit a foreign country, we do not want to waste any time to find the places we want to see or in handling little emergencies.
In the following I have described some of our most memorable experiences. They are in no particular order, and are by no means complete; what we try to achieve is to provide the reader with an appetizer for our magnificent hobby, traveling.
We are very much interested in learning how different people worship and we are always amazed at the beauty and variety of churches, temples and mosques.
One of the most astounding examples is the “salt cathedral” in Colombia, where miners carved the Stations of the Cross and an altar out of the salt in an abandoned mine, some 50 feet below the ground.
In Malaysia in 1990 we wanted to see the inside of a mosque. We did not know whether as non-Muslims we would be allowed to enter, so we timidly approached the guard, who was dressed in a colorful costume with a huge turban, carrying a long sword on his belt. Much to our relief, he beckoned us in and after we had taken off our shoes, he showed us around and led us into the main prayer hall. Only a few other people were there, and we had time to admire the floor which was completely covered with beautiful oriental rugs.
On our way out he wished us Allah’s blessings for our trip and we felt really good. There was no sign of animosity from anyone. All the stories that non-Muslims are not welcome in mosques were wrong; the only place where to our knowledge this is true is the Kabala in Mecca.
Several years later in Damascus, Inge was similarly ushered by the local women into the very sacred Shiite mausoleum of Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet, so that she could fully see and admire the inside of the beautiful building with its walls completely covered in coloured mirror tiles. In general we found most Muslims very peaceful and friendly to us “non-believers”.
In 2002 we took a trip to Peru – which provided for two days in Machu Picchu. On the second day we took the earliest bus from our hotel in Agua Caliente, to arrive at the site before the main tourist onslaught.
There we climbed Huaina Picchu, the lesser (about 1,000 feet high) but steeper of the two mountains. The Incas cut an uneven set of stair treads into the almost vertical sides of this rock, some 500 years ago. The path eventually leads to the remains of a guard house or look-out near the peak, which was built from neatly cut stone without the use of mortar.
Around these ruins there are some retaining walls, also built from cut rock; how the Incas did this construction at this almost inaccessible peak is a mystery. After squeezing through a narrow natural tunnel and with the help of some people already there, we finally scrambled up the last five feet to the very top and were rewarded with an incredible view of the Machu Picchu site before us – and the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Sitting there in the early morning sun was one of the most peaceful moments we can remember. We could very well understand the feelings of another climber there, who told us that he came here about every second year just to meditate on the top of this mountain. Another unforgettable experience was a visit to a Hindu temple near Katmandu during one of their religious festivals. Here, locals sacrifice a small animal; either a chicken or lamb; by giving it to the priest who lovingly takes it into his arms and with one stroke of the knife severs the head without any struggle or sign of distress from the animal.