by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
It was time to leave Thailand. Our beloved traveling companion, Sherman the Schnauzer, had died the day after he turned 17. The vet we had in Chaing Mai had given him the final injection, and then took him to the temple to be cremated and sit at the side of the Buddha for eternity.
Where to go next? Asia is almost exactly on the other side of the world from California, our home and where all our relatives live. We had thought about what we would do if someone needed us at home, but decided not to start back yet, but rather we would travel to the southern hemisphere. But on the way, we would stop back in India to do the southern part, to follow the Raja Raja temples.
We flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, then on to Calcutta, now called Kolkata. I had made reservations for us at an old colonial hotel, The Broadway. This was to be our base for three months while we went south to see the temples, then north to see Darjeeling, the world’s capital tea growing hills, and Mt. Everest (if the fog would ever lift). We are not citizens of any commonwealth country so we could only get a three-month visa. Commonwealth citizens can stay for six months. Between you and me, three months is enough.
To visit Darjeeling is almost like stepping back in time. When the English ruled India, they would travel to Darjeeling in the summer to escape the heat. Darjeeling is at the foot of the Himalayas, the bottom of Mt. Everest, at the beginning of the road to Tibet. We took a train up to Siliguri and from there, a bus careening around curves through the massive tea plantations. We had made reservations for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. There, we met a lovely lady from England who has remained our friend for all these years.
Mt. Everest was hidden behind a field of fog for almost the entire week. One morning I opened the curtains in our room and discovered that I could see the whole city of Darjeeling without fog, and we rushed out to find that we could see that magnificent mountain. We, along with all the other tourists, snapped as many photos as we could before the fog moved back to hide it from our view.
So far in India, we had seen Delhi, the Golden Triangle, Kolkata, Channi, Madras, the temples of the Raja Raja, and one resort where we tried to see a tiger in the wild. We ended our trip in Mumbai (Bombay) and were ready to leave. There are so many very interesting sights in India but eventually the noise, the poverty, the large number of people, the homeless living on the streets, the lack of fresh salads, and the never-ending traffic wears one down. It was time to go.
We flew from Mumbai to Nairobi, Kenya in Africa. Within a few days we had found an apartment and learned our way to the grocery, bakery, downtown, and a few other places. We made friends with one of the taxi drivers and were invited to his wedding. It was wonderful to be included into a family for their most precious time. We met the families feasted, and listened to typical African music. We watched as the little girls in the party danced their way down the aisle.
Our thirty-day exploration of Zanzibar, Zambia and the Victoria Falls, plus a week’s safari, was truly the highlight of our time in Africa. On the way out, we flew to South Africa and took a train to Port Elizabeth where we rented a car to drive to Cape Town. After visiting the penguins and baboons along the shores, we finally left Africa.
We flew into Buenos Aires and immediately felt like we had landed on another planet or in another time. Lovely large buildings were everywhere. We started walking around and saw grocery stores, bakeries, people pushing baby strollers (no, we saw none in Africa), dog walkers walking up to 14 dogs on differing lengths of leash. The streets were paved and lined with businesses. Great buildings of gleaming glass, and street lights delighted us. One of the great sights in Buenos Aires is a street with 12 lanes, filled with traffic. We could not cross it all in one light and had to stop in the middle on an island, while waiting for the signals to go through the sequence.
We found a small apartment and used it as our base as we traveled around Argentina. We visited the Iguaza Falls, mountains in northern Argentina, rode on some of the most wonderful busses we had ever seen which had waiters and wine, visited some of the cities, and finally made our way to Chile.
There, we visited the capital, Santiago, and the sea port of Valparaiso. We ate at restaurants at small tables on the streets, watched as the tourists flocked to the seaside, and continued our travels. We took a bus north to a small village on the border of Bolivia and joined a tour to cross the salt flats. We saw where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were said to have met their end. As far as anyone could see, it was white salt, white salt, and more white salt.
We stopped for a while in La Paz, a large city in the valley of a volcano. At 13,000 feet up, it is difficult to get a lot of oxygen, and we found ourselves stopping to rest quite often. We visited Lake Titicaca and met a lovely women who invited us to dinner. There we met a man and listened while the two of them explained how they were prepared to fight in the streets if the need should arrive. We were going to wait there until my sister could come and travel to Machu Pichu, but I had a stroke and one side of my face refused to smile, blink, or wink. We chose to move down to where we could breathe a little easier.
We traveled to Cusco, Peru to visit the ruins of Machu Pichu. From there we traveled down to Lima, the capital of Peru. While there we saw tanks parked on sidewalks, ready to go into action should the rebel troops decide to attack. It is a bit disconcerting to think that, like our friends in Bolivia, the Peruvians were prepared to fight in the streets if the rebels should come. We thought how strange that would appear in San Francisco, or San Diego, or in any American city.
From Lima, we flew to Colombia where we spent the night in the airport, an exercise that I would never recommend. From Colombia we flew to Mexico City. We had been traveling for 10 years, and we getting tired. We had been 58 when we started and Ted’s hair had been black. Now, with white streaks and older bones and joints, we were heading to Puerto Vallarta to stop and set up home. Our travels were over.