When the Cherry Blossoms Bloom

I have just returned from five weeks exploring Old Japan in Kyoto and on the island of Shikoku on two glorious GeoEx trips, and one of the lessons that resonated most deeply with me was the extraordinary attachment to cherry blossoms that the Japanese maintain even today. During the evanescent two-week period when the cherry trees exploded into pink splendor, Kyoto blossomed too–the streets festive with petal-worshipping locals and tourists alike, and especially, florescent women in pink and blue kimonos, taking selfies. I was transported back to my first spring in Japan, when this phenomenon was new to me. At that time all I knew was limited to what books could teach: that cherry blossoms so suited the Japanese sensibility that they had long ago become an unofficial symbol of the country (the official symbol being the chrysanthemum), and that the word for flower, hana, had become synonymous with the cherry blossom itself; that cherry-blossom-viewing...

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Adventures in Pakistan

I know that there is always trouble in Pakistan and that you need to be careful when you travel there, but my sixteen clients and I didn’t like hearing that, right before our June 2014 trip, the Pakistani military has decided to engage the Taliban on the Afghanistan border, and that the Taliban had called foreigners “fair game.” My group was concerned but adventurous and we knew we would not get close to the conflict. Nonetheless, I tried to keep far ahead of the news with ears to the ground and my eyes wide open. Our trip to the Baltistan region of Pakistan started in the western Chinese town of Kashgar, an oasis city in the middle of the desert that has seen many rulers due to its key location on the ancient Silk Road. Despite the plethora of regimes it has since remained relatively unchanged for generations. As an adventure tour leader based in Sausalito, I used to bring clients through this area on the way to Pakistan quite often in the 1990s. I...

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Renaissance in Rwanda

There are 275 different varieties of birds in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park and as the sky reverberates with shrieks, it seems they all wake up in unison. It is 6:00 in the morning, and I have embarked with a small group from the ranger station deep into the Cyamudongo forest that is home to a large family of chimpanzees, in hopes of sighting one of my relatives, with whom I share 98 per cent of my DNA. The going is rough. I had balked when handed a walking stick at the start of the trek, but now I clutch it in a death grip. Caesar, our guide, literally slashes the branches as we climb, all eight of us crouched in a pretzel-posture, up steep expanses of rock and roots. Mercifully, I am told there are no snakes. Caesar’s walkie-talkie crackles with sporadic news from the trackers, whose job is to follow the chimps daily from nest to nest along the soaring canopy of jungle. After an hour, he lights up. “They have heard the call, so the animals are on...

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Sketching Bhutan: The Riches of Slowing Down
Bhutan with GeoEx

After living and traveling in Southeast Asia for more than two years, I was accustomed to always being in places that are crowded, hot, humid, and beautifully chaotic, but when I first stepped off the plane into Paro’s cool, thin air, I realized immediately that Bhutan was different from the Asia I had known. Two weeks traveling there confirmed this first impression: The forests are vast and lush, the air is fresh, the people are curious, and the architecture is distinctive. My journey was truly inspiring, with every valley holding a different surprise, and I am counting the days until I can return. In preparing for my immersion in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, I took only the essentials: clothes, camera, pens, watercolors, and a fresh sketchbook. The drawings I made there became such a natural extension of the traveling experience that I often didn’t notice I was doing them. As these...

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Postcard from Bhutan: Pillars and Prayer Flags
Bhutan with GeoEx

The highway winds slowly through and around the steeply cut valleys pushed up by the Indian subcontinent. Small streams and rivers carve deeper V’s in the valley floors. I am reminded of the woods where I grew up in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho, and for a moment, I forget where I am. Then the bus rounds a bend and I am greeted by thin, towering pillars with fluttering prayer flags reaching towards the sky, and a farmhouse with wooden shingles pitched at a shallow angle weighed down by large stones instead of nails. Houses with whitewashed earthen walls interrupted by sturdy, hand-cut window frames dot the landscape. Cows and yaks emerge from tall rhododendrons and lope lazily onto the road, looking for a tasty patch of grass to graze on. “This is Bhutan,” I find myself thinking. “I’m really here!” ****** Artwork pictured above by Colin Christy: Prayer flags in the Bumthang region. To get ideas for...

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at [email protected]

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