The sight of the hundreds of people at the temple, which was located in a dark grove of tall trees, the smell of the blood running in a small rivulet and the smoke of the fires where people roasted the meat of the sacrificed animals, left a deep impression on us.
For sheer grandeur of the landscape, our week-long rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon from Lees Ferry to almost Lake Mead cannot be beaten.
Camping every night on a warm sandbank, admiring the myriads stars twinkling into the gorge – and one night listening to the rolling thunder of a summer storm, were fantastic experiences.
An entirely different, but by no means less impressive landscape, or better seascape, is the word’s second largest ocean reef along the coast of Belize. Here again we camped on a tiny, uninhabited island, called a Cay, about 50 kilometers away from the shore. We spent hours snorkeling and kayaking in the warm and crystal clear water, which along the reef in many places is only about a meter deep.
This is a marine sanctuary, so the fish are generally larger and more plentiful than in other areas of the Caribbean. Every afternoon our guides went spear fishing outside the sanctuary to produce the most tasty seafood dinners we have ever eaten.
Another thing that has struck us on our travels is the enormous damage caused by wars to innocent people. Often the effects of war are far-reaching and touch those who just happen to live in a nearby country, as we saw in Laos.
This small and poor country was not involved in the Vietnamese War, but is of course located between Thailand and Vietnam. Every time American bombers were prevented to drop their deadly load because of anti aircraft fire, they went back to their Thailand bases and emptied the bombs in their holds over the Laos countryside.
These were so called cluster bombs, containing hundreds of tennis ball size “bomblets”, which would not explode on impact, but scatter and explode some time later when someone stepped on them, ripping off a hand or a foot from the hapless victim. We saw very many Laotians, mostly children, with lost limbs due to this hellish invention.
Some tourists object to the frequent change of hotels on these adventure trips – many often staying only one night, or with the sometimes very early morning departures. But in our experience these schedules are important: how else can one see a large country from one end to the other?
Talking to people in other countries is a real eye opener; it is amazing how well people can express themselves with only a few words of English. In Iran for instance, young men or women would stop us on the street, asking where we came from and how we liked Iran. The conversation then usually turned to politics, when they told us that they liked and admired Americans, but not the American administration.
On several occasions they even admitted that they disliked their own government and hoped to change it sometime, but they emphasized that they would do whatever may be necessary without any outside help.
Now from politics to historic sites – and Jordan’s Petra was one of the most astounding we have ever seen. One approaches this 1,500 years old Nabatean capital through a long and very narrow gorge; the “Siq”, which is an immense, winding fissure in the rock between overhanging multicolored sandstone cliffs.
Emerging from the gorge we stood in awe before the most famous monument, the “Treasury”, which is a three storey façade with columns and decorated lintels, carved out of the solid rock. Beyond this and along the wall of the valley, there are the other remains of the city, with temples, tombs, an amphitheatre and a court of justice, all carved out of the natural rock.
We had read and seen pictures of the remains of the Jewish mountain fortress of Masada in Israel, where in the year 79 CE several hundred Jewish Zealots committed suicide rather than become Roman slaves.
But it wasn’t until we stood on the spot where this had happened
almost 2,000 years ago, that we emotionally felt their tragic experience.
On another occasion we were standing on Mount Nemo in Jordan at the spot where Moses first saw the Holy Land. We were in a Muslim country, standing in the remains of a Catholic church remembering a Jewish tradition; what a combination!
The enormous efforts exerted by medieval European rulers to drive the Muslims out of the Holy land is nowhere so well preserved as in the huge and elaborate fortresses built by the Crusaders in what are now Lebanon and Syria.
It is difficult to imagine how soldiers, which had been pressed into an army, fought long battles after having marched several thousands of kilometers from their homes, can still design and construct such magnificent structures.
We often look at our pictures and relive those many wonderful moments; walking across the Island of the Moon on Lake Titicaca, driving down the steep and narrow road from La Paz to Coroico in a local bus, riding a camel over the endless desert sand at sunrise, watching a mother rhinoceros and her baby in the Serengeti, observing a sea turtle laying her eggs into the sand in Borneo, or being close enough to almost touch the puffins nesting on a cliff in Iceland.
Some may say that such travel is too expensive; one can see and listen to explanations on almost anything on television or on the internet. Yes, excellent nature programs are frequently shown, but even the best TV screen cannot provide the majesty of a waterfall, the smell of an oriental souk or the taste of a meal spiced in a certain way. We will visit other destinations as long as our health allows; our collection of memories is our most valued possession.