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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

AROUND THE WORLD IN 43 DAYS

Have you ever had a global journey, a trip crossing all the meridians and equator over at least 24,857 miles? I would guess that the great majority of you haven't, but must have something similar on your wish list. Contrary to what you might remember, Ferdinand Magellan was not the first to circumnavigate the world. He, unfortunately, was killed in the Philippines, so his second in command, Juan Elcano (also known as Sebastian del Cano), plus 17 crew members, was the first to accomplish this task on 8September1582, a journey that took 37 months.  

There are global yacht races and all sorts of feats, as for example, Steve Fossett's 2002 hot balloon ride, but he remained in one hemisphere, so that did not meet the test. As have a few other flying pioneers, he disappeared on a flight five years later.

Three Douglas World Cruiser biplanes in 1924 circumnavigated our planet in 175 days and the Graf Zeppelin, a dirigible, took 21 days to complete a world journey in 1929.


American Wiley Post in 1933 took less than 8 days to fly a Lockheed Vega solo around the world. But flying can be dangerous, for two years later he and humorist Will Rogers were killed on a plane Post was piloting. More recently there was Pan Am Flight 1, a trip my wife and I took three decades ago. Since then I've largely used Star Alliance to travel around the world, perhaps a dozen times.

Around the World in 80 Days, the book by Jules Verne, perhaps best epitomizes the adventure and grandeur of such an expedition. Published in 1873, the timing was just right, for the railway across India was just built, and so were rail across America and the Suez Canal. The bet of 20,000 pounds in 1772 for Phileas Fogg to accomplish this task would be worth about a million dollars today. The classic movie directed by Michael Todd starred David Niven as Fogg, but added a hot air balloon leg, which was not in the book. A 2004 version of 80 Days had Jackie Chan as the lead, playing the part of Passepartout. In 1989 the BBC had Michael Palin traveling the world in 80 days following the route.

My most recent global journey, which ended yesterday, was good, bad and ugly, but mostly very good. (As you probably don't remember why those terms were used, let me just indicate that Clint Eastwood was Good, Lee Van Cleef was Bad and Eli Wallach was Ugly.) Let me begin with the ugly:

#1 I started in Bangkok and, while the weather was nice during my stay, the rains came and, soon after I left, floods inundated the country. More than 500 have since died. (Reuters photo.)  

#2 My Tokyo stop was short and safe, sort of, for after I flew to Europe, I heard that pockets of high radiation were scattered even into the city (then again, maybe not), and the escaped material perhaps twice as much as reported. My European cities were Amsterdam, Stockholm and London. There was one ugly incident:

#3 The best way into Stockholm from the international airport is the non-stop Arlanda Express. Looking at the map, the Sheraton seemed to be just across the street from the train terminal. Unfortunately, the station is quite long, with assorted construction in progress. The walk pulling my suitcase was at least a 150 yards, and 30 yards from the hotel, someone came up to me and said there was catsup on my jacket and he would wipe it off. I immediately recognized that scam and told him no, and walked on. A few yards further a second man tried to wipe my jacket, but I was at the entrance and walked in. I was that close to having my pocket picked. Apparently, these teams are from Central and South America or Eastern Europe, usually in threes. As Stockholm is a "safe" city, you rarely see any policemen. This will need to change.  

There were two ugly experiences in South America, both in Rio de Janeiro:

#4 I got bitten on three fingers in a Rio de Janeiro biological park tour by what must have been a spider (recluse?). They all swelled up and looked terrible. A doctor on our tour diagnosed my ailment, and told me to just tolerate it until it ran its course. This could have been fatal, and there was a finite chance that the flesh would continue to decompose, so my survival was especially sweet, for my fingers have totally recovered.  








#5 A thief on a motorbike drove up to one of the tour couples walking close by our hotel in the afternoon and tried to rip off the chain around the neck of one of them. Certainly into their 70's, they fought him off. I've circled the globe a dozen times and I never before experienced any of the above five uglies. Well, maybe India Sucks last year was also not pretty. Read the comments. 


The mere bad to any of these trips? General small stresses that occur anytime you travel, not worthy of mentioning in detail. Simple things like the history of your hotel pillow, for example. I was also sleepy and exhausted almost continuously.  

Certainly, my carbon footprint was especially bad: 37430 (or just about exactly 1.5 times the circumference of Planet Earth) miles on twenty different planes. Yes, I could have assuaged some guilt by purchasing carbon offsets, but my philosophy on global warming is that the whole world needs to participate for this to work. (Photo from the Christian Science Monitor.)

Another bad is that the cost of travel is high, very high. First Class on Star Alliance ranges from $20,000 to $22,000 (business class is $10,000 to $12,000 and economy is $5,000 to $6,000). You can't backtrack (much) and have up to 16 flights. My fare had a limit of 39,000 miles. I did add up the Star Alliance legs and the actual cost was $43,000, so it was, I guess, worth the expense. Hotels were largely in the $300-$500/night range. In comparison, Phineas Fogg spent 19,000 pounds, or the equivalent today of $842,000.  









The cost factor was exacerbated by searching for Pellagrino's Best 100 World Restaurants, where each meal was extravagant, but expensive, plus no doubt, significantly adding to my weight. I was fortunate (usually difficult to get a reservation at the last moment) to dine at two each in London (left with St. John Chef Chris Gillard) Sao Paulo (right with DOM Chef Alex Atala) and Lima (below, a typical dish, from Malabar) When you consider that San Francisco and Los Angeles each has only one in the Top 100, and French Laundry in Yountville is only #56, you get a good idea of how far behind we are in fine dining.  












To this all can be added $5,000 for my Globus 12-day South American Adventure. But that was a very good, for I got to see Rio (left, my pick as the greatest city on Earth), experienced Iguassu Falls (right, the most extraordinary natural wonder of the world) and completed my tribute to Pearl, on Machu Picchu. 


I also contributed to the general knowledge of humanity through three Huffington Post articles:  

1. Japan: Seven Months After the Cataclysm

2. A Simple Solution for Europe

3. The United Countries of the Americas.  

To close, if you recall (and you can read the final two chapters here) that fateful morning Fogg arrived home, he thought he had lost that 20,000 pound bet, and his fortune, because he had counted sleeping 81 nights. But by traveling east, he did not realize he had gained exactly 24 hours, and it was Passepartout (right, Cantinflas, with Shirley MacLaine, who marries David Niven) who realized almost too late that the meticulous Fogg had erred.  Thus, Phileas Fogg just made the 80 day deadline.

I left at noon on October 3, a Monday, and returned home at 2PM on November 15, a Tuesday, always traveling west.  Does that mean the title of my journey of 43 days is incorrect, and I actually completed my odyssey in 44 days? Or on the 45th day? Comments?

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