Travel is often exhilarating and intoxicating, but it also bequeaths a fund of memories that is a lifelong source of solace and delight.
This year, I fulfilled a long-held ambition to sail aboard the Hebridean Princess, a 50-passenger ship that plies the waters between the west coast of Scotland and the romantic islands of the Hebrides. Prior to the cruise, we had driven around the Isle of Skye, becoming entranced by the wild beauty of its mist-draped mountains. But from the sea, we gained a whole new perspective. Along a deserted section of coast, we sailed beneath sheer cliffs populated by tens of thousands of seabirds, peered into ravines cloaked in dark green and russet vegetation (the colors that inspired Scotland’s famous tweeds), and gazed at countless waterfalls, white ribbons tangled on the dark mountainsides, which finally cascaded into the swell and spray of the ocean. It was a landscape that inspired a strange but overwhelming combination of awe and tranquility.
Early on a sunny summer morning, I sat on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Timeo, sipping a cappuccino, reading a newspaper and listening to the birdsong. A friendly white-jacketed waiter arrived at my elbow with a glass of freshly pressed blood orange juice. He gestured at the view. “She’s thinking today,” he remarked. I was puzzled for a second, and then above the purple bougainvillea, I noticed a thick white ribbon of smoke curling from the summit of Mount Etna.
The movie “Born Free” provided much of the impetus behind my first trip to Kenya, beginning a 40-year obsession with wild Africa. For much of Elsa’s story, Joy and George Adamson camped in Meru National Park, on the banks of the Ura River. And it was there that the lioness died at the surprisingly young age of 5. One day, I set off with a guide along a rutted dirt road that twisted through tangled bush. Eventually, we arrived at the tree-lined banks of a muddy river. Taking care not to bump into any of Elsa’s relatives, we wandered over to a low pile of rocks held together with concrete. On one slab, roughly carved with a chisel, it said simply “ELSA JAN 1956 – JAN 1961.” On that hot, still afternoon, it seemed an ineffably peaceful spot.
During a road trip along the Oregon Coast, we dined one evening at Restaurant Beck, a small, chef-owned dining room overlooking a lovely bay rimmed by weathered cliffs and a slim crescent of driftwood-strewn sand. A spring squall swept across the mouth of the cove, where Pacific rollers exploded against the rocks in spectacular slow motion. Briefly, the electric power failed. While we waited for the lights to come back on, the squall passed and the setting sun emerged from a fog bank, bathing the cove in unearthly light.
Despite its grandeur, the Mayan city of Xunantunich receives an average of around 40 visitors a day. But one morning in April, we had the place to ourselves. The site comprises six plazas surrounded by 26 temples and palaces. The most remarkable structure, however, is a 130-foot stepped pyramid known as El Castillo. We scrambled up the rough path leading to the top. There, rather out of breath, we gazed around in amazement. A panoramic view encompassed the whole site, as well as thickly forested hills extending far into both Belize and Guatemala. We sat for half an hour with our backs against a stone, buffeted by a warm tropical breeze, reveling in the space and solitude.
Kicker Rock is all that remains of a collapsed volcanic cone. There, two tufa spires are separated by a channel about 75 feet wide. Having flopped off the side of the Zodiac, I peered down. About 15 feet beneath my flippers, 50 or 60 Galápagos sharks, exquisitely streamlined and incomparably graceful, cruised above the milky-green abyss. I set off down the channel and was soon joined by a green sea turtle that was clearly unfazed by the strange intruder. I was so entranced, it was not until my guide tapped me on the shoulder that I noticed the three giant spotted eagle rays, each 6 or 7 feet across, swimming beside us. We followed them, within touching distance, for nearly half an a hour.
In early 2011, we had the indelible experience of encountering this 600-pound silverback Mountain Gorilla, part of the Dian Fossey troop, 11,000 feet up in the spectacular mountains of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.