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How China Opened My Eyes

Looking Up At The Bottom LineI was in the sixth grade, and my new social studies book was entitled, The World Was Wide. John Glenn had just orbited the earth, twice. I remember thinking about that title and how exciting and yet how sad that it was that the days of Magellan and Sir Edmund Hillary, and Perry and Scott were behind us. At the same time, I wanted to go to the places that they had touched and written about.

I’ve been lucky enough to have found Eric, my best friend, who also likes adventure hiking, camping, and exploring other cultures and countries. My exposure to other people and other cultures opened my eyes to all aspects of the human condition: the joys, acts of bravery, and human suffering. It has been my search to explore and understand this planet that has shaped my course in life and desire to end the condition of homelessness.

Eric and I met at a time when we both wore the clothes of younger men. Our first trip ever took us over land into Canada in a paintless, eight-cylinder Chevy Biscayne that spewed oil and blew smoke. We were at the Canadian border and were almost refused entry because the authorities suspected we were driving the car into their country only to abandon it there.

The truth was, we were doing everything possible, including using duct tape and making cardboard gaskets, to keep it running. Our destination was Algonquin Park, 42,000 pristine acres of Canadian Wilderness, where we took the Polar Bear Express as far north as the train would carry us, and then into Inuit (often referred to as Canadian Eskimos) country.

Another trip took us up the Amazon River and into the Peruvian Andes, where we climbed Mount Sulkantay. Eric has been to Africa three times and had malaria as many times. He fooled me into thinking he had contracted another malaria strain when actually it was soroche, or altitude sickness. This condition can drive a person violently mad and, if not treated, can immediately end in death.

In 1983, Eric and I ended upon a shared expedition of our own device when we left the unauthorized borders of the Shawa Province surrounding Addis Ababa and delved into the forbidden Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, with 1,000-meter sheer drops, in search of the Falashas. They have been referred to as the Black Jews and purported to be people of the Diaspora, when, according to the Bible, they were scattered to the corners of the Earth.

Obviously, we “rough-travel,” which means we travel any way we can, and for as cheap as possible. We have also, for various reasons, attached ourselves to more organized treks or parts of organized treks as part of our travels.

One such trip was our foray into China in 2007. We joined an Earth Watch Expedition, when we became part of an exploratory team that went deep into China and Mongolia, and into the Gobi Desert in search of water. In a time when the true value of water is only just now being realized for its worldwide implications, I hope you will be fascinated with our journey into the land of nomads, camels, and the highest sand dunes in the world. Click here to read it.