Posts Tagged With: World Trade Center

Mistakes, I Made A Few

Her backpack: Indigenous woman in Cotopaxi, Ecuador, several thousand feet above sea level where oxygen is hardly plentiful. And she manages to still smile

“Has it been a year?” a friend asked, as I stood in his dining room in Miami. “Yes, I’ve been gone exactly a year,” I replied, feeling somewhat uncertain myself.

It was hard to believe that a year ago last month  I left the United States for Colombia, where I started this great global adventure. Hard to believe how much ground I covered by road and how many people I met along the way. How many lives I touched and how many lives touched mine. I am not the same person that left the United States last February. I am changed, for the better, I think. I know more about South America and South Americans. I’ve seen more. I’ve learned a thing or two about tolerance, and above all, patience. You have to be an extremely patient traveling for a year in the Third World. You must adjust to all sorts of situations and customs.

I bit my tongue – mostly – when someone tried to lecture me about the evils of the United States. I listened and nodded and sometimes even agreed with the disagreeable.

South America was great in so many ways. I am now back in the United States. In Miami, to be exact, nursing an injured knee, the result of a tumble in Chile.

My backpack: Compared to what she's carrying above, maybe I should quit whining... 🙂

The knee seemed to bounced back to health, but as I started to make my way across Argentina and Uruguay, with a backpack that seemed to weigh more with every step, the pain returned. So after limping around Montevideo for a while, I hopped online onto the American Airlines website and booked a flight to Miami. The plan: see a doctor about the knee, take it easy and start anew in Europe.  That was the plan. This month, my doctors have had a thing or two to say about that. After X-rays, physical therapy for up to three months has been ordered. I start April 9. Not exactly the way I had hoped things would turn out, but also not as bad as it could have been. No need for surgery, for instance. That’s good news. Bad news, I am in Miami instead of Brazil, which I had to skip to deal with the knee. No worries, new plan is Brazil has been appended to 2013, but more likely early 2014 given my detour.

Meanwhile in Miami, I’ve had time to reflect on the year that was.  What I did, what I would do differently. And with this entry, I hope you, dear future traveler, will learn from my mistakes. I list a few:

1. The Backpack: Mistake number one. I bought the biggest one on the market – 91 liters – but nobody told me that amount of weight is nearly impossible to carry fully loaded, uphill, up stairs, for long periods, especially for a man who weighs 170 puny pounds. (My weight at the start of my trip was more than 190 pounds, at times closing in on 200 pounds).

But I carried two backpacks, so there! 🙂
In Santiago, Chile.

Some might say I don’t have to fill the backpack with the kitchen sink, but another unforeseen problem with a pack that size is it has to have a certain amount of stuff in it, otherwise the fasteners won’t close properly. So then you are forced to load up with stuff you really shouldn’t be carrying. So my advice is buy a backpack built to carry the minimum you will need on the trip, not the maximum. You may find yourself wearing the same clothes more often, but your legs, spine and shoulders will thank you for it.

2. The Fights: So the stranger learns I’m American and I get one of two reactions – love or hate. The United States is not the most popular nation on Earth. That has been made very clear to me across South America, with one individual after another laying into me about Iraq, Guantanamo, American imperialism, 9-11, on and on. From Colombia all the way down to Argentina, I heard from individuals who really believe that the United States government blew up the World Trade Center and crashed planes into the Pentagon as a pretext to attack Iraq.  Really? These conspiracy theorists were fed this story line by conspiracy theorists in the United States. So I can’t really fault their ignorance.

Sometimes I would allow people to go on and on and have their say. Sometimes I would challenge their assertions. And that more often than not was a mistake. People form their own opinions and they won’t change it no matter how much rational reasoning you try to impart. So my attempts to set the record straight often ended in disagreement. Henceforth, I will just shut up and smile.

3. Voices Inside My Head!: As most of you know, I’ve been couch surfing my way around the world. It’s been amazing, but not always smooth sailing. And it’s been those times when I didn’t listen to that voice in my head that said “go to a hostel or a hotel”. When traveling in a strange land, go with your gut! It’s nature’s way of alerting you that something is amiss, perhaps even dangerous. The times I ignored that little voice inside my head I ran smack into trouble and had a bad experience. Nothing major, just unpleasant. When the voice told me to find someplace else to stay, I should have listened. When it told me not to attempt to go down that canyon, I should have listened. When it told me….well, you get the idea.

Knee Issues: Herein may have lay part of the stressed knee problem! Not enough leg room on some buses in South America for people more than five feet tall!
Two-plus hours on a bus - in this position - to Santa Marta, Colombia

4. Tentative – I bought a tent for this trip and it was one of the things I ended up shipping back to the United States because I was carrying way too much. I should have kept the tent! Housing is important and that tent would have come in handy throughout South America. I had used it only a couple of times and thought I would not use it again. Wrong! So many places that allow camping and it would have been great to have it and awake in some beautiful spots. The  tent stays with me on the rest of the journey.

5. Thanks For The Advice: When you travel you will run in to people who have advice as to where and where not to go. What to see and what to skip. Opinions, opinions, opinions. But it’s your trip and if you have your heart set on someplace, do not allow others to dissuade you. Do your own research and decided for yourself if it’s worth it. A couple of times, against my better judgment, I skipped a couple of places then heard from others that those places were phenomenal. For instance, I am hearing from some that the Egyptian Pyramids are a bore. No amount of criticism of the pyramids will keep me out of Egypt. I will draw my own conclusions about the pyramids.

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Not Forgotten!

Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the terrorists attacks in the United States. To me it feels as if it happened yesterday.

I remember where I was – living in Portland, Oregon, where I worked as a reporter for the state’s largest newspaper, The Oregonian. That previous week, I had worked long days and extra hours, so I had been granted a day off to catch up on some much-needed rest. I was in a deep sleep when the first phone call of the day came from a colleague. She didn’t bother with the usual “hello”. Her immediate frantic words were: “Mike, New York is under attack!”

Groggy and still half-asleep, I gently protested that she woke me up and asked what in the world was this about. She told me to put on the news. I turned on the television and didn’t have to switch the channel to find the unfolding drama as every television channel was broadcasting it live. Still, I switched to CNN, because what I was seeing on the television seemed unreal, like a Hollywood movie. Soon after I had tuned in, right there on live television, the second airplane crashed into the second World Trade Center tower.

I tried to call my family in New York to see if everyone was okay and out of harm’s way, but the phone calls would not go through. The phone lines were either jammed or down.

As I watched this insanity unfold, the second phone call came, this one from my editor who said he realized that it was my day off, but “we need all hands on deck.”

As I made my way to the office, I caught my first surreal image of a nation at war: A pickup truck sped up Broadway, one of the main downtown streets, with a man in the back holding high a very large American flag. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at him, struggling to hold the flag high in the wind and to the truck’s jerky movements. As the truck slowed at a traffic signal, he looked dead at me and said nothing. There was fire in his eyes. He seemed ready for a fight. I guess it was his way of sending a message to the terrorists.

September 11, 2001, touched me in much deeper ways – an attack on a city that I love filled with family and friends who worked either in the towers or the World Trade Center area. My hometown, where as a teenager in Brooklyn I would stare at the Manhattan skyline dominated by the Twin Towers. Those attacks affected friends and family in unimaginable ways. Some are simply not the same people. I’m not the same person. I still travel and will never stop traveling, but like so many, I am wary. I study every passenger who comes aboard a flight I’m on and think about what I could and would do in the event of a terrorist act aboard. It’s the new reality we live in.

At one point that day 10 years ago, I ended up in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Downtown Portland, sitting alone and being comforted by a complete stranger – A woman who didn’t have to ask what was wrong. On that day, 300 million Americans grieved over the same loss and the rest of the world joined in that grief.

So I take this day to remember those nearly 3,000 people from all walks of life; representing dozens of nationalities, who lost their lives 10 years ago. And I pray that these evil men who profess to follow the teachings of a holy book and yet kill helpless men, women and children in the name of religion, are defeated once and for all. Evil is evil, no matter how they try to wrap it.

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