South Sudan

South Sudan, independent since 2011, is indeed "the world's newest country." Mundari cattlemen shown here with a Texas cattleman's son.

Yemen ~ Socotra

First time to see one of Socotra's famous dragon blood trees (with guide Wagdi). 

Since 2014, the mainland of Yemen has suffered from a multi-sided, complicated civil war

Egypt ~ Sinai & Cairo

Listed on TripAdvisor as a top thing to see in Sharm el Sheikh, the King Tut Museum turned out to consist entirely of brilliant replicas. Ha! Failed to do my homework on this one but it was a cool break from the hot beach nonetheless.


Fell in love with Egypt decades ago but had never visited the Sinai peninsula to see Sharm el Sheikh and St. Catherine's monastery.

A majority of the tourists for Sharm's sunny beaches are Russians, but I correctly guessed the high season would not be so crowded this year.



I'd never seen Dulles airport so empty in the middle of weekday. I flew Egypt Air nonstop to Cairo, then a one-hour flight to Sharm el Sheikh.


For miles up and down the coast, beachfront hotels hug the shoreline. Photo shows a corner of Naama Bay in the heart of Sharm.  


The fantastic Al Sahaba Mosque in Sharm el Sheikh has many Ottoman elements and looks historic, but it opened in 2017!


Also new (2010) is the Heavenly Cathedral (Coptic Orthodox), and I was not expecting to see such a large, beautiful church in Sharm. The exterior is fairly plain, but the interior is spectacular.  


What better place for a two-story stained-glass window of Moses holding the Top Ten than at this cathedral in the Sinai? On the right is my photo of Mount Sinai itself, and I will not get into the biblical archeology debate over alternative sites.


St. Catherine's Monastery began in the sixth century AD and has an extraordinary history. It is the world's oldest Christian monastery and world's oldest library, continuously operating. Its collection includes thousands of ancient manuscripts.  


Long story, but I was able to meet with Father Justin, the Archimandrite head of the monastery and the librarian of the phenomenal collection.


Father Justin, the one American monk here, was born a fellow Texan whose parents went to Baylor. Felt like we were old friends. He is a smart, upbeat, easygoing guy and it was a special treat (I should probably say "blessing") to get to spend time with him and hear about recent discoveries of more ancient documents, digitizing the collection, preservation steps, and more.



After visiting the monastery, Salim was my Bedouin guide for some hiking in the Sinai.


Departed Sharm/Sinai for a return visit to crazy, chaotic, cracking Cairo. This was my view across the Nile to the island of Zamalek.

I wanted to see friends and return to some of my favorite spots around the city. (It helped that prices at most of the nicer hotels were slashed.)


I'd not been to the pyramids in decades — but still as awesome to me as ever.

Mena House Hotel is close to the pyramids. From my room I could see the Great Pyramid. Above was my view at breakfast. Five minute walk to the entrance. 


When the gates opened at 8:00, the whole complex was nearly empty. A thrill to walk around and have it almost all to myself for two hours.  


Near solitude with just me and the Sphinx but, after an hour, a few friendly students started arriving and wanted photos so that was fun. (Look how tall middle-class boys are these days with more protein and less koshari carbs.)

Skipped the camels and carriages and spent hours walking around the area on a breezy, pleasant day.


Back in the city, I had to revisit the packed alleys and lanes of Khan el Khalili, Cairo's famous souk. However, this photo is a "main street" in the area.


From a hotel rooftop in Khan el Khalili, I got this shot of the historic minarets and mosques in an area called Islamic Cairo. In the distance is the Citadel.


These days any stroll is likely to encounter Instagrammers angling for that perfect shot. Above right is in Sharm El Sheikh. Below right are two friendly young women in Cairo about to stage a photo. One wanted a photo with me and let me reciprocate with this one.


No trip to Cairo is complete without visiting the old Egyptian Museum, but a majority of its collection has already been moved to the massive new Grand Egyptian Museum opening soon out by the pyramids. 

Above are two of the biggest statues I saw still at the old museum: Ramses II (left) and Senusret I (right). And below are some of the cast rehearsing for the lavish procession that will transfer of the Pharaohs' mummies to the new museum.
In fact, soon after I left, the dramatic procession was held:


The top treat was seeing friends in Cairo, especially two outstanding scholars...
Visiting with long-time friends Dr. Laila at the American University of Cairo and Dr. Magda who engineered my first visit to Egypt decades ago.

All in all, the Sinai proved to be a wonderful new travel destination, especially getting to meet with Father Justin. It was also wonderful to revisit some Cairo classics — people as well as places! For me, Egypt never gets old. And my friends certainly do not.



Colombia ~ Cartagena

In Cartagena with fruit sellers dressed in the colors of the Colombian flag just before my shirt became drenched in the heat.

For obsessive travelers — even if vaccinated — travel planning is still tricky as the pandemic lingers on.

I wanted to go ① somewhere I'd not yet visited ② that is warm, ③ is not too far away, and ④ does not require an entry quarantine.

Exploring lists of "must see" places in South America, I saw Cartagena often listed in the top ten. It's a short nonstop due south of Miami. Plus, the weather forecast was hot and sunny. No arrival quarantine, just a negative test.

Cartagena alone looked like it held more than enough to enjoy exploring on foot for many days. No need to hop around Colombia; I'd been to Bogotá and Medellín previously.

Cartagena turned out to be an ideal choice!


Once a key city in the Spanish empire, Cartagena is now home to over a million people. A high, thick wall runs 11 kilometers around the old colonial city (foreground above).


Most blocks in Cartagena's large old town are immaculate, colorful, meticulously preserved, and topped off by bougainvillea. Except in the midday sun, I never tired of just walking around for hours.


Cartagena's Cathedral


Plazas, big and small, dot the old town, usually surrounded by outdoor cafes.


The elegant Santa Clara Sofitel, in the heart of the old town, was built as a convent in 1621.


Near the hotel is La Serrezuela, a new upscale shopping center featuring a nightly show of fountains dancing to "Nessun Dorma" and then "We Will Rock You."

Getsemani 

Next to the walled old town is Getsemani, a poorer barrio now being gentrified. Without the colonial heritage to maintain, Getsemani is free to be more bohemian.


Getsemani is noted for its creative street art. It was fun to walk around without a guidebook and "discover" for myself some of the more striking murals. 


You won't see multi-colored balustrades and exotic murals in the colonial district.

Bottom line: Loved Cartagena.
Extended my stay there from a week to ten days. You can see the basics in three days, but it was a fascinating, charming place to hang out longer.




Tucson, Tecate, Puerto Vallarta

Hiking in Arizona's Sonora Desert filled with giant Saguaro cacti.

Post-Vaccine Travel

Summer of 2020 I volunteered for the Moderna vaccine trial, got lucky and was accepted. Got lucky again in the fall when I got the actual vaccine not the placebo.

After finally being officially “unmasked,” I started traveling again, extra cautiously at first staying within the US. Then, feeling increasingly liberated, to Mexico and Colombia.

Incidentally, this New York Times article was extremely influential in shaping my optimism about the protective power of the vaccine.

Tucson, Arizona

Time to see my wonderful, peripatetic sister Kathy currently residing in sunny Tucson — and hike the hills nearby — and stay at Canyon Ranch wellness retreat for more exercise and healthy food.

Stunning Agua Caliente Park in Tucson looks like a Moroccan oasis.


When I think of the American West, I think of these big, iconic, fantastic cacti. But I learned that actually the Saguaro cactus grows only in the Sonoran desert, mainly southern Arizona and just across the border in Mexico.


Hiking with awesome sister Kathy in Saguaro Natl. Park, and aerobic swimming with competitive guest Kyle at Canyon Ranch.

Tecate, Mexico

Weather back home was getting colder, so I went for another sunny destination: Rancho la Puerta, a hiking and health retreat in Tecate, just south of San Diego.

Like Canyon Ranch in Tucson, this place was also operating at about 20% capacity, but was not cutting back on its activities. It was another weird but wonderful experience, as if you have booked a big place for your exclusive use with a few of your new friends.

Little hike up to Alex's Oak with Rancho la Puerta below.

Hike being lead by Connie, one of the best trainers ever.

Canyon Ranch in Tucson is impressive, but I still far prefer Rancho la Puerta in Tecate — much more camaraderie, convenient hiking, warm staff, and better hourly options. I stayed ten perfect days until the weather in northern Mexico started turning cold and then I went south to...

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

My first visit to Puerto Vallarta (aka PV) was a wonderful, warm, ten-day getaway.

Mexico had just declared the state of Jalisco a "red zone" due to increased Covid-19 cases. This was a strong test of my Moderna vaccinations. While the beaches were windy and spacious, I was not exactly in an antiseptic bubble since I was enjoying restaurant meals with people and a daily vacation massage.

I'd been in contact with fewer people in the stricter environments of Tucson and Tecate. But Moderna passed my Puerto Vallarta test without a cough.

In a typical winter high season, I'm not sure I'd like Puerto Vallarta with mobs of people. But due to the pandemic, PV was not crowded at all.


Only occasionally would someone stroll by and briefly block the view.


PV's warm latitude is right in line with Hawaii and it's a lot closer.


Nice daily walk for a couple of miles along PV's beautifully landscaped Malecon with sculptures and shops, but no crowds of tourists.


Dusk at the Playa Los Muertos pier.

Where to next?
How about Cartagena, Colombia, which is supposed to be extraordinary?

Virtual Travel via The Voice

What to do with airports off limits?
When trips are nixed?

I can turn to virtual travel via my guilty pleasure:
Versions of The Voice in many dozens of countries.

India ~ Ganges

Typical scene of people bathing and washing colorful clothes along the Ganges as viewed from our ship on a trip up the river.

After my two-week cruise in Assam going

India ~ Assam

In Assam at a Bodo silk-weaving village before watching a beautiful Bagudumba dance.

Explore (Click on a country to open its link.)