Unable to journey very far at present, we’ve had the chance to reflect on our years of travel. The memories that stay with us the longest aren’t always the ones that gave us a jolt of adrenaline on a trip. Sometimes it’s the small, quiet moments that touch us most deeply. Here is a collection of remembrances from our editors that remind us of the many-faceted joys of travel.
For nearly 500 years, from the 16th to the 11th century B.C., the necropolis known as the Valley of the Kings received the mortal remains of Egypt’s pharaohs. These were interred in a huge complex of rock-cut tombs situated on the west bank of the Nile opposite Luxor, the ancient city of Thebes. On arrival, there is little to see, just arid, leafless hills and dusty wadis, a desert landscape oppressed by heat. The tomb entrances are unobtrusive, with usually just a small sign or number to reveal the identity of the former occupant. Virtually all the tombs were robbed in antiquity — the famous exception being that of Tutankhamen — but much of their decoration is intact. From the monochrome desert landscape, we headed down a ramp into the tomb of Ramses IV and abruptly found ourselves in a brilliantly colored world of hieroglyphs, deities and mythical creatures, depicted in vibrant shades of gold, crimson and cobalt blue. Owing to the lack of humidity, many of the murals were in an astonishing state of preservation. We explored the tomb’s extensive lower levels, scarcely able to believe that we were looking at paintings that were created more than 3,150 years ago. Suddenly, we realized that a small group of tourists had left and that we were entirely alone. The huge tomb, with its multiple shafts and corridors, was well-lit, so the atmosphere was not intimidating. But to be abruptly immersed in the silence of centuries was overpowering. We stood next to the pharaoh’s massive sarcophagus, conscious of our own breathing, and waited for the reassuring sounds of footsteps and voices.
I arrived in the ancient Romanian village of Mălâncrav after a slow drive along a 12-mile gravel road. I wanted to see the murals in the 14th-century fortified church, and my guidebook said the keys could be had at Casa Parohială, which I guessed meant Parish House, but I didn’t know where it was. Then I noticed three children sitting on a log bench under a chestnut tree. I approached them with a smile and a greeting of “Bună ziua.” They giggled and returned my greeting. I spoke to them, hoping they might understand that I was trying to find the key for the church. One of them nodded at my notebook. He opened it to a blank page and drew a little map. They made a place for me on their bench and indicated that I should sit down. I learned they’d been studying English for two years, which was surprising, because they spoke it quite well. Then, a nearby arched doorway opened and a woman in a flowered housedress stepped out and called to the children. Next, the girl took me by the hand and led me to her family’s kitchen, which smelled of nutmeg and cinnamon from the cookies just out of the woodburning oven. The mother put some on a plate and poured me a glass of caramel-colored apple juice. I was regretting that I had nothing to offer in return when it occurred to me that I could give them my guidebook, which I did. When I left, the girl kissed me on each cheek, and her mother handed me a plastic bag with a jar of plum preserves. The paintings in the church turned out to be very beautiful, but they weren’t the reason that I will always remember Mălâncrav.
As we drove away from Kasbah Tamadot, the landscape changed from the Mediterranean terrain of the Asni valley to rocky semidesert. This environment soon turned into tortured layers of black basalt, glistening in the drizzle that appeared from nowhere. As we ascended into the High Atlas Mountains, the rain morphed into sleet and then snow. By the time we reached the 7,415-foot-high Tizi n’Tichka pass, we were in a full-blown blizzard. The serpentine road cut a calligraphic path through the jagged landscape that had become entirely black and white. Numerous cars stopped at the panoramic top of the pass to take photos; others stopped elsewhere, involuntarily, having run into trouble while driving in the slippery conditions. While it was January and I knew that this pass sometimes received snowfall, I found myself unprepared for the dislocating experience of a Moroccan snowstorm. At one point on our descent, we saw snow collecting on palm trees and cacti. After we cleared the mountains, the desert reasserted itself, with canyons and mesas alleviating the monotony of the acacia-studded plain. It felt as if we’d traveled from Tuscany through Switzerland to Arizona in less than three hours.
From the Damascus Gate in the walls of the Old City, we walked down the steep, narrow street that separates the Muslim and Christian quarters until we reached the Via Dolorosa. There, on a corner, we came to the Austrian Pilgrim Hospice, the oldest Christian guesthouse in Jerusalem, founded in 1854 by the archbishop of Vienna. We rang the bell, and after a brief delay, the heavy wooden door swung open and we were admitted by a nun. Successive flights of stairs led up to the roof. It was a sunny day, and we stood close to a flagpole, from which the red-and-white Austrian flag flapped energetically. A 180-degree panorama of the Old City was set against a backdrop of the distant Mount of Olives. To the left, in the middle distance, the view was dominated by the golden Dome of the Rock and the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque. On higher ground to the right it was possible to make out the golden cross atop the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We stood for close to an hour in the gusting breeze, gazing down at the most historically saturated, spiritually significant and fiercely contested cityscape in the world.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park has the largest stand of old-growth redwoods on the planet. They have been spared from logging by the efforts of the Save the Redwoods League, which acquired its first grove in 1921 and has since raised millions to purchase its current 53,000 acres, 17,000 of which are old growth. Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old and have attained heights well over 300 feet. Standing among them, craning our necks to see their crowns, surrounded by some of the oldest living things on earth, I felt humbled, inspired and ennobled. It was a profound moment of unity with the natural world.
We had many beautiful sundowner drives during our recent travels through southern Africa. But one, in Namibia’s Hoanib Valley, stands out as truly breathtaking. We had our excellent guide, Frank, all to ourselves. He drove us through the curvaceous valley, bound by low, weather-weary mountains, silent witnesses to hundreds of millions of years. Around a bend appeared a herd of elephant. A mother walked with her week-old baby close beside, an adorable little wrinkly thing with a fringe of black fuzz. Others tussled with one another and trumpeted, kicking up dust and quickening our pulses. Another turn in the valley revealed a full moon rising above the valley walls. It looked unreal and enhanced: a movie moon. As we headed back to camp, a small animal darted in front of our vehicle. “That was an African wildcat!” Frank exclaimed. “I have never seen one since I started working here!” We looked at each other in amazement and laughed.
Argentina and Brazil
Garganta do Diabo, the Devil’s Throat, is the largest of the 275 cascades that make up the Iguazú Falls, which form a border between Argentina and Brazil. Here, around half of the Iguazú River’s entire flow collapses off a basalt edge before being transformed, 270 feet below, into a maelstrom of water and spray. Shortly after dawn, long before the arrival of the crowds, we walked up the forested riverside path on the Brazilian side of the falls, coming eventually to a metal walkway that zigzagged across the river to an elevated viewing deck. We had come equipped with waterproof ponchos, but before long we were drenched. Leaning on the rail, trying to resist the onset of vertigo, we peered down into the abyss. There, hundreds of great dusky swifts, intrepid birds that live behind the protective curtain of the falls, could be seen heedlessly flirting with oblivion. The stupendous panorama of the Devil’s Throat was unimpeded. For close to an hour, we stood transfixed by the astonishing grandeur of the scene.
More than the fancy places with Michelin stars, I yearn to go back to Le Garet, a little bouchon (bistro) on a quiet side street in Lyon. A small bric-a-brac-filled spot, it is hugely popular with locals, and meals here are an infallible pleasure. This year I enjoyed a lunch of salade Lyonnaise, followed by quenelles de brochet (fluffy pike perch dumplings in a pale pink crayfish sauce) and cervelle de canut (a fresh creamy cheese seasoned with shallots, garlic, herbs and olive oil), and finally a scoop of black-currant sorbet fortified by a generous shot of Marc de Bourgogne. Be advised, however, that eating at Le Garet is as much about conviviality as it is the food, which means a lot of chatting between tables, as well as much laughter and noise, the great Gallic soundtrack of French people thoroughly enjoying their food.
My suite at The Silo hotel in Cape Town came with an entrancing 180-degree view of the marina, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and a cobalt-blue expanse of the South Atlantic. Despite the opulence of its interior, with its chandeliers, velvet sofas, art deco-style furniture and original contemporary art, I often found myself heading outside to my small balcony, to revel in the gusts of sea air and to listen to the cries of the seagulls. There, my eye was frequently drawn to the horizon and specifically to a low-lying smudge of land.
The boat tour from the waterfront to Robben Island takes around three and a half hours, and it is so popular that advance reservations are recommended. Its highlight — if that is quite the appropriate word — is a visit to Nelson Mandela’s cramped cell, with its barred window, single lightbulb, tiny stool and bedroll on the floor. Prisoner number 46664 spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment there, before becoming the first president of post-apartheid South Africa. In his autobiography, Mandela recalls his arrival and being greeted by the guards with shouts of “This is the island. Here you will die!” His principal activity for close to two decades was breaking rocks in the island’s limestone quarry.
Like Alcatraz, Robben Island had a splendid panoramic view of one of the world’s most beautiful and hedonistic cities, and part of the extreme nature of the punishment was being virtually within touching distance of all of life’s most conspicuous pleasures. “The city looked agonisingly close, as though one could almost reach out and grasp it,” Mandela wrote.
Looking back the other way, while surrounded by affluence and luxury, is an unsettling experience. It’s impossible not to reflect on life’s lottery, its intrinsic unfairness, and of the suffering routinely meted out to the undeserving. I loved every second of my stay at The Silo — it’s a wonderful hotel — but there were times when I felt an emotion quite close to shame, at my outrageously privileged existence.
We began our trek on a cloudless morning, in the small dirt plaza of a sleepy Andean village, at an elevation of just over 13,000 feet. Even at such a high altitude, the thin mountain air felt crisp and invigorating. Ahead of us, a woman wearing a scarlet pollera, the traditional handwoven woolen skirt of Peru, shooed an unruly herd of alpacas down the winding track through fields of tawny stubble. A two-hour hike brought us to a vantage point on the southern flank of the Sacred Valley, from where we gazed across at the snowcapped peaks of the Urubamba mountain range. Crenellated glaciers descended from the 19,394-foot Veronica, their huge seracs and crevasses looking at this distance like ridges and troughs on a colossal sheet of crumpled paper. A thousand feet below, the extraordinary circular terraces that the Incas had carved into the hillside centuries earlier appeared like giant corrugated seashells.
Feeling little inclination to move, we lay on the warm earth, swigging from our water bottles, cooled by a gusting breeze. In a field next to the trail, two sunburned Quechua people were grubbing in the cinnamon-colored soil for potatoes, the staple crop of the high Andes. Their ancestors were probably doing much the same thing when Pizarro made his peremptory and epoch-changing entrance into Peruvian history. Indeed, the scene was so timeless that it was possible to reimagine the pre-Columbian world and to believe, if only for a moment, that the walls of the Coricancha, Cusco’s Temple of the Sun, were still covered in sheets of gold.
As pleasant as it was to gaze at the scenery scrolling past the deck rail of our boat, the Aqua Mekong, I will never forget our bicycle forays into the emerald countryside of Cambodia. Kitted out with state-of-the-art equipment and led by guides who clearly knew the territory well, we embarked on journeys that took us to the workshops of artisanal silversmiths and the homes of talented potters, as well as through shimmering rice paddies, where local farmers were planting a new crop of rice, a back-breaking task requiring each new shoot to be stuck into the saturated earth by hand. Everywhere we went, children ran to windows, doors and the road's edge to greet us.
During our Safari Explorer cruise in Hawaii, I dutifully arose early one morning to join a sunrise whale-watching excursion. As I sipped my coffee in the twilight, longing to return to our cabin’s comfortable bed, a crew member spotted a whale “logging,” or resting, on the surface. We approached and discovered a humpback nursing her newborn calf. The mother sometimes helped the calf onto her back, raising it above the waterline in order to catch an easy breath. We watched for an extraordinary 45 minutes as mother and calf bonded. Throughout the cruise, we saw whales spouting and breaching, sometimes with breathtaking proximity. But when I think back on our cruise, it is the memory of a humpback and her calf that I most treasure.
Toward the end of our Antarctic cruise aboard the National Geographic Explorer, we entered a tranquil fjord flanked by impressive snow-capped hills that stood silently beneath gray skies. Ahead lay a vast sheet of ice. To our amazement, the ship plowed right into it. Through an entryway on the lower deck, we walked onto the frozen ocean. Some people wandered about in wonder; others fell to the ground to make snow angels. Out on the ice, I thought of the Apollo astronauts who ventured out onto the plains of the Moon and looked back at their lunar module. For a moment, I understood the feeling of being on another world.
To create travel memories of your own, reach out to the Andrew Harper Travel Office and talk to an advisor.