Whangarei, New Zealand

Posted in Featured on February 3rd, 2010 by Caryn B. Davis

In last month’s blog I talked about how I had answered in ad in the back of WoodenBoat Magazine (http://www.woodenboat.com) that was seeking brave souls to sail around the world. Deciding that was indeed the kind of adventure I wanted, I answered the ad, quit my job, sold all my possessions, said goodbye to my family and friends, and flew to New Zealand to crew on an old 127 foot cargo ship.

I arrive at the airport in Whangarei on the east coast of the north island on a bright sunny day with blue, blue skies and clean, clear air. Vladimir, the boat’s owner, and his girlfriend Nola pick me up and drive me to Whangarei Harbor where Ariela, is tied up. My first impressions of New Zealand are seen through the van window: Beautiful rolling hills, lush green countryside with plush trees and vegetation, and clouds that go on forever. No wonder the Maori’s refer to it as “Aotearoa” The Land of the Long White Cloud. There is no pollution here, nor garbage on the streets. A cool breeze from the Antarctic is blowing from the southwest. How wild is that to feel the Antarctic wind across your face?

We drive down a very long dock to where Ariela is berthed at the very end, directly across from a huge container ship. These are the only two vessels in the whole harbor which is undeveloped; without a proper marina or any amenities. This will be my home for the next month while we work to make the boat sea worthy. I find my bunk inside a cabin built for four that I have the luxury of occupying alone until we set sail and our paying passengers arrive. I will then move to a bunk in the hallway which is a great relief to me that I don’t have to share my sleeping quarters with others. I look over my little 7 foot by 3 foot space and determine I will need to fashion a curtain to hang in front of the bunk so I can retain a small measure of privacy while I am sleeping. It’s challenging to find a place to be alone when living onboard a floating fishbowl. There is hardly anywhere to go except aloft in the rigging, on the bowsprit, or overboard.

After I settle in, I am formally introduced to the rest of the crew. It doesn’t take me long to figure out the personalities and understand exactly what I am dealing with. There is Vladimir and Nola who I already mentioned. They met at a hospital in Arkansas, where she was working as a physician’s assistant and he was employed as a doctor. I was told later that Vladimir escaped from his native Russia by hiding in the bilge of the boat. Nola waits on Vladimir hand and foot and reminds me of a puppy dog. She is always placating him, and believe me, he needs a lot of placating. No matter what she does for him or cooks for him, he always makes her feel as though she did not do it well enough. Then he sulks to get her sympathy, and finally she coddles him and fusses all over him. This happens at every meal. Yuck!

Klaus is Vladimir’s silent business partner. He is very handsome with dark hair and perfectly straight white teeth. He was a solider in the German army and once told me the Holocaust had been prefabricated by the American media as propaganda, and 6 million Jews had not really been killed in concentration camps. I have a huge problem with this obviously, from both a moral standpoint. I refrain from voicing my opinion because in case I fall overboard, I want him to save me.

Nigel is our British captain who has never lived on land in his entire life. He seems the most normal and reliable of the bunch, which is a good thing since he is the captain. He asks me to make him a marmite sandwich, so I oblige. I slather on marmite as thick as I would peanut butter not knowing anything about marmite. Marmite as it turns out is really, really salty. Therefore, I am informed later; only a thin coating is required. The sandwich that I have lovingly crafted for my dear captain is inedible. With a little guidance and encouragement, I eventually become a dam good marmite sandwich maker.

Fred is our kiwi carpenter hired during our stay in Whangarei. He wants to see the world and Vladimir agrees to take him on. Unfortunately while underway Fred experiences great separation anxiety and is unable to perform his duties. He lies in his bunk at night crying himself to sleep even though he is a grown man. This makes us all cringe with disgust and compassion.

Some of our paying passengers are already with us, touring New Zealand while we are getting the boat ready. Thus far we have Kurt and Daphne, two outrageous hippies from California who paid a lot of cash, $80,000 to be exact, for a one year passage. They also paid Fred out of their own pocket to re-construct their cabin to accommodate more built-in cabinets and drawers. They become my surrogate parents and a saving grace on this ship of madmen. (Ultimately they jump ship in Vanuatu only 2 months into their journey, forgoing their $80 grand, because Vladimir  is such a drag to be with and they are not having any fun.) Then there is Bob and Dee, a wholesome married couple from the mid-west who bake delicious Italian pastries from scratch and catch fish to boot. And finally we have Giovanni, a stereotypical Italian lover and painter from New Orleans who keeps making unwelcome passes at me.

I begin working the very same day I arrive because there is so much to do. We have paying passengers to pick up along the way who will accompany us on various legs of the trip, and we can not afford the luxury of being tardy.  This is how Vladimir is funding the voyage. I have been up for hours from the long flight across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans but am too wired and too excited to sleep. Even though I am not an experienced sailor, it doesn’t take me too long to realize this boat is a wreck. I don’t know how we are going to be ready to sail her with passengers in four weeks. Aside from Vladimir and Captain Nigel, the so called other crew which includes me, are novices. I have sailed in local waters near my home, but have never made an offshore voyage. I am told is a totally different experience. This concerns me greatly as docking a 127 foot vessel could present a problem.

I work very hard, scraping, painting, splicing lines and varnishing. I begin to lose all sense of time as one day quickly flows into a week. Because there is no place I need to be at a specific time, I have no need to actually know what time it is. Every day is a work day and we work until the day is done. It is a new and refreshing concept not to be tied to a clock and have your life and movements dictated accordingly. I am really enjoying it. I am totally getting in to the rhythm of life here. Every morning when I awake my body feels like it’s been hit by a Mac truck I’ve been working it so hard. It feels great.

Last night, Nigel, Klaus and I take a ride into the bush out to Mandel’s house, another one of our carpenters. The countryside is breathtaking. And I think this must be some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. There are a lot of cattle, goats and of course sheep. Possum are to New Zealand what squirrels are in the States and over run this place. We hit quite a few on our way to Mandel’s and I sit in silent agony with every thug. It’s really unavoidable I’m afraid, as we are on winding, unpaved, dirt roads without any street lights. But what is avoidable is the pleasure Klaus seems to be deriving from killing these small marsupials.

Mandel and his wife Hildegard sailed to New Zealand from Germany in the 1980’s and have been here ever since. I suppose they defected because it was before the wall came down, but they refuse to speak of it in any sort of detail. They actually knew Vladimir somehow before, and didn’t much care for him then or now. But Klaus and Mandel get on fabulously and spend hours speaking in their native tongue.

People here are so hospitable and would give you their last meal if necessary. Hildegard laid out some nice cheese, pork from their pig, and a sweet beef stick. Mandel brought pitchers filled with his “home brew”, which he had well been into by the time we had arrived. A lot of Kiwi’s choose to make their own beer because it is so incredibly expensive. It costs nearly 60 New Zealand dollars per case and it’s not even that good.

After a couple of weeks, I begin to notice how strange old Vladimir and his girlfriend Nola are. For example: There is no first aide kit onboard, or fresh drinking water because the water maker is broken. It looks to me like Vladimir  has no immediate plans to fix it. I don’t drink soda or fruit punch ever so this is a real dilemma for me. I inquire about it during dinner one evening shortly after my discovery. I ask if they will be purchasing bottled water for the first leg of the trip. I receive no reply from a direct question. Vladimir simply refuses to answer. He ignores me completely in an attempt to unnerve me. I find his silence rude and disconcerting. Later he informs me that he never promised there would be fresh drinking water or a first aide kit onboard, and when I cut my finger he hands me a piece of gaffer’s tape. It was then I realized I might be in for a rocky ride. There were other tell-tale signs of rough seas ahead. There was no edible food onboard to speak of. It was limited to peanut butter and jelly, or cheese or marmite sandwiches. After a hard day of physical labor, peanut butter and jelly simply did not cut it.

This was one disorganized ship, I soon surmised. I feel I am not be utilized to the best of my ability and could be doing more. Vladimir is clearly uptight about it, I can see. In his mind I have to prove myself first. No sense of camaraderie yet. Everyone just does their own thing. No one has assigned me a specific job to do and it’s hard to keep busy when I don’t know what it is that needs doing. Nigel and Vladimir are the only two people aboard who really know boats. It is completely beyond my comprehension how we are going to pull this off. The crew needs to know how to sail this ship. We are responsible for the lives and safety of others and for our own. I am beginning to think that Vladimir’s attempt to save money by not hiring an experienced crew was a big mistake. Nigel says this is not a problem. I have my reservations.

Monday the rigging is going up. This ought to be interesting. It looks to me like a lot of things are not safe, including the frayed halyards and sheets used to raise, lower and pull in the sails. I have been doing a lot of line splicing and repairs in an attempt to make the lines stronger, but really, old Vlad should quit being so cheap, bite the bullet, and purchase what’s needed.

It is late winter in America and late fall here. Cool mornings and evenings with sunny days and temperatures registering 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. The US dollar is equal to about two Kiwi dollars, which is great. I saw an oil skin coat for 160 Kiwi dollars. That translates to only 80 US dollars. I think about purchasing one but decide it is too heavy to carry as I still have so far to go.

One morning I wake up early and decide to have my coffee on deck and discover 6 women leaving the humongous container ship. Just as I am taking my last sip, they all pile into a station wagon and tear down the dock hollering and waving back to a bunch of men peering over the ship’s gunwale. I realize they are prostitutes and that this kind of thing probably happens a lot. I think about how much money they must have just made.

Tensions are running hot around here. There is great pressure to get the boat seaworthy and time is running out. Today I did not rinse the sink out when I washed my hands with the grit compound that takes the varnish off and Nola unleashed her fury upon me. Oh well. Right now I am more concerned about taking a shower. Being clean is a small pleasure that if I was at home, I would have certainly taken for granted.

The Kiwis are extremely laid back, friendly, and an unassuming group of people. This is the land of “no worries”. Can you fix my car? No worries. Can you fix my boat? No worries. They say it even if they can’t. They don’t rush around here like they do in the States. You have to get used to waiting for things. It’s an entirely different culture and you have to respect that. That is why the electrician and carpenters are getting very irritated with old Vlad. He is on a frantic deadline but it means nothing to them. He’s constantly on them to work harder and faster. They don’t respond well to this, need-less-to-say. I think the electrician has finally had it and is playing a little trick on Vladimir by sabotaging the electric system. Poetic justice, I suppose.

So here I am, living in New Zealand after having quit my job, put all everything that I did not manage to sell in storage, spent thousands on the appropriate inoculations, rain gear, film, videotapes, SCUBA gear, camera equipment, health insurance and so on. I have no idea what the future holds, but I do know I am very uncomfortable putting my life into the hands of these lunatics. Like it or not, they are my shipmates. And there will be moments I may need to rely on them for my safety if we are in a storm at sea or if I am physically injured while onboard or any of 100 different scenarios. But the truth is I do not trust Vladimir or Nola. This reality leaves me very uneasy. However, I made a lot of scarifies to be there and I am determined to make it work. I remember feeling totally exhilarated sitting in the Auckland airport waiting for the puddle jumper to Whangarei. I felt such a surging sense of freedom to be on the other side of the world, alone with no one to answer to in any way, shape or form. I am a small, insignificant particle in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. And now, while I did not doubt nor regret my decision, I had begun to wonder if I would make it beyond the first leg of the trip.


This month’s travel tip is about communications. With the advent of email, I am able to duck into an internet café and conduct business while I am away, and line up business for when I get home. I love that because I don’t have to miss any work. I can simply schedule the job for when I return. Also with internet cafes, the need to carry an expensive and heavy laptop is eliminated, and so is the lugging around of it and the prospect of it getting stolen.

I can also check the local weather online if I am unable to find a newspaper or can’t read the language. This is very helpful because if inclement weather is coming to the region I am in, I can leave. And if I do decide to leave, I can look for lodging online in town I want to visit. This saves time and money when trying to call ahead, which can be challenging if you can’t understand what the operator is asking.

That brings me to my next subject: Telephones. Pay phones really vary from country to country. Some countries don’t actually have any pay phones on the street. In this case there are telephone offices from where you make your call. Often the person behind the desk will connect the call for you and you pay on your way out.

I usually buy a 5 euro phone card, for example, when in Europe, that usually lasts the whole trip. I don’t bother bringing a cell because the international fees are astronomical. But if I absolutely had to, I would rent one from www.travelcell.com. You only pay for the outgoing calls and not the incoming. (My friend Joyce Metz from Preferred Travel www.chuz2cruz.com also has a handle on where to get cell phones as well as great places to travel. If you book a trip with her, please give her this code: 01CBD)

Making a local call to another area of the country you are traveling is more difficult than making an international call. It requires a different phone card than the international card. You will also need the city codes of the places you are calling which can be found in a phone book or online. When phoning the US from overseas you must dial 011 first, then the area code and then the number. You can find the country and city codes for all international dialing at www.countrycallingcodes.com.

When making international calls, most operators speak English, and often the automated voice messages telling you why your call will or will not go through and how much money is left on your phone card, is both spoken in the native tongue and in English. Try not to slam the phone if it doesn’t connect. Rather move to another booth as many can be persnickety.

That’s all for now. Until next time, safe travels. Enjoy the journey.

Caryn B. Davis

Next Month: Setting sail for Norfolk Island and managing your money.

Caryn B. Davis is a commercial, editorial, architectural, marine and portrait photographer, and a published writer, with a studio in Chester, CT. Her images and articles have appeared in over 60 leading national and international publications. She is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers and teaches photography to adults and children. As an avid world traveler, Caryn enthusiastically and artistically photographs people, places and things at home and abroad. For more information log onto www.cbdphotography.com and www.thedesiretojourney.com.


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Mystic, CT to Whangarei, New Zealand

Posted in Featured on December 28th, 2009 by Caryn B. Davis

If you really think about it, the only thing that prevents of us from being able to travel as often as we might like is the man made construct of time and money. TIME; that we are not able to take off from our jobs and our lives, and MONEY; that we have to spend instead on necessities like rent, food, car repairs, health insurance, electricity, etc. I don’t actually subscribe to the time/money paradigm in my personal belief system and yet it affects me.

I remember the last time I saw my friend Tracy in 1997. It was the day before I was to leave New Zealand after a 4 month trip. I wanted to move there and although I had been offered a job as a producer/writer at TV New Zealand in Wellington, I could not get immigration to grant me the work permit because TVNZ had failed to advertise the position to the local community first. Unconvinced there wasn’t a talented producer lurking about in their very own country, immigration stamped “DENIED” in bright red ink across my application. (I have since heard from Joyce Metz of Preferred Travel in Essex, CT www.chuz2cruz.com that NZ just started a resettlement program and it is now much easier to immigrate there. Incidentally, Joyce is a great travel agent. If you decide to book a trip with her please give her this code, CBD 0110.)

Tracy and I were walking alongside a tiny brook next to a paddock across the road from her house in Kaikoura (www.kaikoura.co.nz) which is a magnificent place located on a peninsula near the continental shelf.  Sperm whales gather there year round for feeding, while pilot whales, orcas and other marine mammals visit regularly. You can go on whale watching tours and swim with wild dolphin and seals. I chose the later and must say it was a bit intimidating. These large, curious creatures like to swiftly approach you head on. And just as you are literally nose to nose, and think for sure they are going to ram right smack into you, they gracefully turned on a dime without touching you at all.

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As we were walking and talking surrounded by tranquil scenery, we were lamenting my leave of this gentle, sane country which to this day remains so near and dear to my heart.  Tracy and I did not know when and if we would be able to afford the time or money to see each other again. We pondered that this paradox, was the only thing keeping us apart. Certainly it wasn’t from lack of desire. We thought it was crazy! But apparently it wasn’t, because here it is 13 years later and I still haven’t made my way back to see my friend and my godchild, Finnegan, Tracy’s eldest son. This had not been my first trip to New Zealand and hopefully it would not be my last.

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In 1993, I was working at Mystic Seaport (www.mysticseaport.org), a maritime museum in Mystic CT, in their Film and Video Archives/Media Resource Division. People often donated historical footage to the museum, and as the Media Specialist, I got to view it all. One day we received a collection from a woman named Electa Search Johnson. (That was really her name, I kid you not, but she was called Exy for short.) She had sailed around the world seven times with her husband Irving, before exploring the inland waterways and canals of Europe, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, the Nile, and the Baltic. In total, they spent 43 years at sea from 1933-1976.

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The Johnson’s understood how unique their endeavors were and had the foresight to document every voyage on 16mm film. They circumnavigated the globe at a time when maritime laws did not restrict where a vessel could go. Some of the islands were so remote that the inhabitants had never seen a white person before. As a result, they experienced cultures, customs and places that have long since vanished due to changes in technology, weather devastation, political turmoil, and increases in development. I felt privileged to have archived this amazing collection.

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The Johnson’s told of real life bungee jumpers in the New Hebrides (now called Vanuatu) with vines wrapped around their bare ankles. These young men flew off 83 foot towers fabricated from sticks to signify their passage into manhood. On the equator where Darwin had once journeyed, they encountered friendly sea lions that had not been encroached upon enough to know to fear man. In Raiatea in French Polynesia, they watched in wide eyed wonder as native firewalkers braved glowing ambers barefoot. In Tonga they made the acquaintance of a 200-year old tortoise that was once fed by the hand of Captain Cook who had made the same passage a century before. On Pitcairn Island they raised the anchor from the HMS Bounty, where Fletcher Christian and his merry band of mutineers had sunk her Majesty’s naval war ship in an attempt to hide from the British Navy.

I never knew there were so many wondrous places on this earth until I saw this collection. My curiosity went wild. I could no longer contain my burning desire to travel. All my waking moments were suddenly consumed by one thought and one thought only: How was I going to do it? I did not make a lot of money working at a non-profit museum and I hadn’t been able to save any either. All I knew was this: I was only 30 years, and Mystic was not going to be my last stop!

I wanted to know more about life than what I had at my disposable in the confines of Connecticut. I wanted to know how people lived and worked in other parts of the world, what customs they practiced, what Gods they prayed to. I wanted to experience beauty. I wanted to explore and to be free. I wanted to answer to no one but myself. I wanted to go. I wanted see. I wanted to do, and I wanted to do it alone. The Johnson’s inspired me because they had done it. They made you believe that anyone could do it. In fact, they encouraged it. I thought: This is for me. This has got to be the way for me.

I had always been endlessly fascinated by the great explorers who braved the elements and gave up everything they knew in exchange for the unknown. What motivates people to do that? Was it purely adventure they sought? Or perhaps a desire to stretch and test themselves beyond what they believed their own limitations were, beyond the comfort and predictability of the place they called home. For me, it was a little of both.

One day, while I was working in the bowels of the basement of the Stillman Building, a dark musty space with only one window that I shared with my co-workers, I came across a very small classified advertisement while thumbing through a copy of WoodenBoat that read, “Looking for brave souls to sail around the world”. And I thought: That’s me!

This was the opportunity I was waiting for. I immediately rang the number listed in the ad. Hans, a doctor of some sort answered the phone. We talked for a while and came to an arrangement that I would go along as unpaid crew in exchange for room and board. And, with my newly purchased video camera, we agreed that I would give him a promotional video at the end of the voyage that he could use to solicit paying passengers which is how he was funding this trip around the world. Because I would need time away from my crewing duties to gather footage, I would not be subject to a 10 hour day like the rest of the crew. Instead, I would work an 8 hour day, using the remaining two hours for shooting. With this settled, I quit my job of three and a half years, sold what meager possessions I owned, put the sentimental stuff in storage, liquidated my bank account, purchased an obscene amount of Hi8 videotape, and said good-bye to all my friends and family. I boarded a plane for Whangarei, New Zealand to work on a 127 foot old cargo ship that had since been converted into a magnificent sailing vessel, or so I thought.

I am going to leave you all with that little cliffhanger until next month where my story will continue with my arrival in New Zealand, also known in the Maori language as “Aotearoa” The Land of the Long White Cloud.

THIS MONTH’S TRAVEL TIP: How to Survive the Airport and a Long Flight

I always get a bit nervous before flying, especially if I have connections to make, though I have only missed one in all the places I have journeyed and in all the flights I have taken. None-the-less, I am not the greatest traveler.  I don’t like waiting in the airport, landing or taking off, turbulence, or being confined to a chair with little leg room as I tend to get claustrophobic, so I have invented little ways to make the whole waiting/flying experience more enjoyable.

When I first book my flight I consult www.seatguru.com where I can view the aircraft’s configuration and get the low down on which seats are good, which are bad, which ones don’t recline, which have more leg, etc. I also call exactly 24 hours ahead when the airlines will release the emergency exit seats because they have more leg room.

Whenever possible I fly out of Newark International because I can take Amtrak from Old Saybrook right into Newark Station. This saves me the parking fees at the airport and lots of stress by not having to sit in traffic on 95 worrying if I am going to miss my plane.  Also, the flights out of Newark are frequently non-stop on Continental, and I like Continental as an airline in terms of on-time performance, comfort and service. (A lot of airlines are doing away with free food and movies, like American, where you now have to purchase these “luxuries” onboard.) Continental also has individual movie screens so you can watch whatever you’d like. That alone makes the trip go faster.

I board the train in Old Saybrook and get a friend to drop me off. That way I do not have to concern myself with leaving my car at the station for a lengthy period. I bring a brown bag lunch because the food on the train, if you can call it that, is absolutely hideous.  I also purchase meaningless celebrity gossip magazines that I have affectingly nicknamed the “Rag Papers”, and small nips to make the ride go faster. Once I reach the stop for Amtrak station in Newark, a free monorail takes me right into the airport terminal.

Because most of the places I seem to go have flights scheduled around suppertime, I usually arrive at the airport much earlier because of the train schedule  and sit outside as long as possible,  drinking my store bought nips, enjoying the sun, and people watching. This helps to pass the time and save money on bar drinks. Once it gets close to boarding, I peruse the gift shops and book stores near the gate to occupy more time.

Once onboard, I pull out my book, earplugs, an inflatable neck pillow which really saves your neck and enables you to sleep with a limited recline, and yes, 2 sleeping pills. I never used to take them but I do now. Sleeping soundly really makes the trip go faster and then you wake up at your destination refreshed and ready for fun. I then stay up until my usual bedtime, completely avoiding jet lag!

Until next time, safe travels. Enjoy the journey.

Caryn B. Davis

Next Month: My sojourn to New Zealand continues with landfall on Norfolk Island.

Caryn B. Davis is a commercial, editorial, architectural, marine and portrait photographer, and a published writer, with a studio in Chester, CT. Her images and articles have appeared in over 60 leading national and international publications. She is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers and teaches photography to adults and children. As an avid world traveler, Caryn enthusiastically and artistically photographs people, places and things at home and abroad. For more information log onto www.cbdphotography.com and www.thedesiretojourney.com.

A love inspects the distorted promise.

The Desire to Journey

Posted in Featured on November 9th, 2009 by Caryn B. Davis

Dorothy said “There’s no place like home.” It turns out, Dorothy was wrong.

I’ve always been a perfect dichotomy of myself; endlessly conflicted between home and travel, between my desire to journey and my desire to put down roots. But anyone who knows me knows that I live for travel. These nagging questions are always in the back of mind: Where is my next trip? When is my next trip? How will I finance it? How will I be able to set up my life so I can travel more and work less and spend at least 3 months a year overseas somewhere?

I thought, after working in 9 countries in one year (I will get to the particulars of that in a minute), that my desire to journey would be cured once and for all, but that was not the case. In fact, while lying in a hammock fashioned to my bungalow on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, I had an epiphany I could not ignore. It demanded I quit my corporate video job and seek employment that would pay me to travel. It was 1998, and by this time I had already been to 23 countries and a lot of them solo. (By the way, solo travel can be wonderful. It’s often easier to meet locals and fellow travelers because it’s less intimidating to approach one person than a couple or a group which often results in amazing experiences like being invited to family dinners or traditional festivals.) Anyway, I had sold everything I owned by this point three times over to help fund my trips. And each time I returned to the states, I had to buy it all back when inevitably I had to find a job and a place to live. That was becoming very tedious.

So when I returned from my allotted one week Costa Rican vacation to my very boring corporate job (yawn, yawn), I subscribed to the International Employment Journal. (These were the olden days when people found jobs in the classified section rather than online.) I was getting quite discouraged wondering if I was ever going to manifest my dream because for the first 5 months of my subscription, I found no jobs for which I was qualified. The very last issue had a tiny ad for a Media Producer with Orbis International (www.orbis.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating blindness worldwide. I could not contain my excitement when I applied, or when I was offered the position. In fact I was busting at the seams, staring with disbelief at maps, marking all the wondrous places I would be going. Finally!

My job was to create teaching videos from eye surgeries that were performed onboard the Orbis DC-10, a wide bodied airplane that had been literally converted into a flying eye hospital. There was an operating theater, a recovery room, a communications center, a conference room, a laser room, a classroom located in what was once the first class section of the airplane, and a TV station which is where I worked.

Every three weeks for one year we changed cultures, customs and languages whenever we landed in a different country. I was part of multinational crew of twenty-five doctors, nurses, bio medical engineers, flight mechanics, translators and support staff. In 1999, I visited Cuba, Morocco, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, China, Philippines, Hong Kong, Burma, Bangladesh, and yes; I did get paid for it!

Here’s how it worked. Every Monday a team of doctors and nurses headed to the local hospitals and picked 20 patients for the week. Because Orbis is first and foremost a teaching facility, volume surgery was not a consideration. Often, people were chosen based on their condition and what a particular team of doctors wanted to learn about that condition. World renowned surgeons joined us in the field to volunteer their services a week at a time. Local doctors would fill the seats in the first class section and watch the surgery live on a big screen. They could communicate with the surgeon and ask questions while the surgery was being performed.

There were 11 cameras throughout the aircraft offering varying views that were broadcasted through the TV station and recorded onto video tape. (Again, this was the olden days before DVD. It was also the days when you had to read the manual instead of going online to discover why your equipment wasn’t working. You could not call a Sony technician to come and meet you in China! We had so much equipment in the edit suite and control room that we had about 2000 pounds of wiring. If something was malfunctioning, we often had to trace those wires to see which were faulty. It was a starting point anyway. Armed with schematics and manuals, we were often able to resolve the problem.) After the operations, I would edit the footage, and the surgeon would add his / her commentary. We then donated all the tapes to the local medical community.

That year, I slept in 44 different beds in hotels throughout the world. I absolutely love hotel rooms. I love the little shampoos and individually wrapped soaps and that someone makes your bed for you everyday. I love living out of one bag and knowing that I need nothing else. I love simplifying, being resourceful and being able to carry all my belongings on my back. That is true freedom. I still retain my one bag policy today where ever I travel and it’s always carry on.

Now in 2009, after exploring a total of 34 countries, I have lost count of how many hotel beds I’ve slept in. But I haven’t lost track of the amazing adventures I have had or how travel has thoroughly enriched my soul and my life. This is one of the many reasons I have decided to start this travel blog. I realize that traveling is a skill I have become quite adept at. On a practical level, I would like to share some of my favorite places and encounters, tips on packing for traveling light and traveling well, and how to find great deals. On a personal note, traveling has changed my life, and without it, I do not think I would be the person I am today.

I began traveling 29 years ago with my first real trip to the Bahamas at age 17. Since then I have visited:

1. New Zealand (twice)

2. Cuba

3. Morocco

4. Jamaica

5. China (twice)

6. The Philippines

7. Burma (I refuse to call it Myanmar)

8. Bangladesh

9. India

10. Italy (twice)

11. Hong Kong

12. England

13. Turks and Caicos

14. St Thomas

15. St John

16. Virgin Gorda

17. Cooper Island

18. Tortola

19. Bahamas

20. New Foundland

21. Nova Scotia

22. Puerto Rico and Culebra (3 times)

23. Mexico (3 times)

24. Belgium

25. Switzerland

26. Germany (3 times)

27. Holland

28. France (twice)

29. Portugal

30. Luxembourg

31. Costa Rica

32. Dominican Republic

33. Israel

34. Norfolk Island

But my list continues to grow and grow and grow. I haven’t been to Ireland, Iceland, explored England sufficiently, Alaska, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia, Australia, Fiji (except in the airport), The Cook Islands, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador or the Azores. These are on the “must see before I die list” and then of course there is the secondary list called “I’d like to go if I can but I can still live with myself if I don’t”.

I am as off the beaten path as one can get when it comes to traveling. My interest is in experiencing the authentic culture and true nature of a place as opposed to visiting typical tourist destinations. I am a traveler, not a tourist. I journey, I don’t just visit.

I have one strict rule which I am embarrassed to admit I broke on a 2008 trip to Portugal with a visit to Lisbon: I don’t do cities. To me, they are all the same; crowded, noisy, and with areas besieged with pick pockets and the like, where you have to remain alert and on guard. Unless there is a cultural reason for going like to see a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork like Michelangelo’s David in Florence, or a specific museum like the Louvre in Paris, or the architecture in the Alfama in Lisbon, I see no reason to go. (The Alfama was very disappointing and I would not recommend it. It is the oldest part of the city and the only section that was not destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. It is home to Fado music which can be heard in the bars and restaurants. But is very dangerous and you can not freely move about, especially at night. People will rob you at knife point or gun point just to steal your money, jewelry and camera. Physical violence is not really a problem; just your random muggings.)

The Lisboans are hip to the fact that Fado music is popular and that tourists will pay a hefty price to see it. So most of the restaurants we ate in had horrible food, where we got food poisoning and crappy service. But if you absolutely must visit Lisbon, I would stay in Belém which we discovered on our last night there. It is a historic neighbor about a 15 minute trolley ride from Lisbon located right on the water. It feels more like a large neighborhood than a city, with great local restaurants, interesting architecture, a botanical garden, a maritime museum, a palace and a coach museum with ornate carriages from the 17th-19th centuries on display.

Personally, I enjoy the small villages and rural countryside where I might be fortunate enough to still catch a glimpse of old world traditions that have not yet been rendered obsolete or spoiled by technology and over development. In L. Saint Marten for example, which is directly west of Lisbon near the Spanish border, we saw farmers and widows donned in traditional black that still used cart and horse to get around.


So back to the beginning. I decided to start this blog to share my travel experiences and tips, and will be doing so with each blog. Here is the first rule of travel: Take one bag only. Here is the one exception to this rule: If you are traveling through two different climates in one trip, you might need 2 bags or one large bag because of bulk. For example, we had friends who visited Japan when it was winter and then went on to Thailand where it was the equivalent of summer. Remember, packing is both an art and a science. Here is what I do.

Often I am traveling in late winter to a warm climate. I wear my down jacket, and a pair of sandals with heavy socks in the car, then leave the down jacket with the car at the airport and carry a hooded sweatshirt for warmth and rain or the like, and a denim jacket which can be worn with pants or a skirt. I also remove the socks upon arrival and do not put them on again until we fly home. This way I only have to take 1 pair of shoes. I bring sandals with good treads in case we have to hoof it. I pack my clothing carefully, making sure all the colors I choose can be mixed and matched, thus going well with whatever top or bottom I have on.

Here is the amount I would take for a 21 day trip to Italy for example, with temperatures about 70-75 during the day and about 55-60 at night. I usually take 3 pairs of linen or lightweight pants which don’t wrinkle easily and dry fast if they get wet from rain or need washing in a hotel sink. I take only 7 pairs of underwear, enough for 1 week. They can be easily washed in a sink as well. I take 2 skirts that are not so fancy that they couldn’t be worn during the day, and not too casual that they couldn’t be worn in a restaurant at night. I take 3 tank tops and 3 shirts, and am able to layer when cold or remove layers when hot. I take a scarf for style and warmth. When packing, roll your clothes. You will get maximum space out of the bag if you do and they won’t wrinkle. I use a small carry on bag with handles and wheels. It is so much better than carrying a backpack and saves your back.

For toiletries I take only the following: 1 toothbrush, 1 full tube of toothpaste, dental floss, soap, small sewing kit, band aides, Neosporin, tweezers, nail file, razor, deodorant, one lotion for both face and hands, Q-tips, hand sanitizer the size of a pen and tissues (real handy when forced to encounter public toilets that are not cleaned with any regularity), hairbrush, hairclip (good for when you haven’t showered), ear plugs (great on the plane for snoring neighbors or bed fellows), Tums (really helpful while getting acclimated to food) and travel size shampoo and conditioner. Some hotels provide them, some do not. Remember it’s not the United States. You can always buy more while abroad without incurring a large expense. The small sizes take up less space and weigh less. I also take sunglasses, a paperback book or two that can be left behind when finished and a Swiss Army Knife for cutting cheese, opening wine and reading the small print on maps with the magnifying glass.

I use an LL Bean Personal Organizer to carry my toiletries. It holds a maximum amount with minimum space and it has a hook so you can hang it on a door knob or towel rack for easy access. You can buy it here: www.llbean.com. It comes in sizes that range from overnight travel to trips lasting longer than 5 days and everything in between.

I don’t bother with make up or a blow dryer but if you must take a blow dryer, make sure it has a plug adapter that will fit the plug configuration in the country you are in. You may also need a converter to convert your dryer from 110V to 220V for example as in Europe. Be sure to check the voltage and plugs before you leave. The same applies to camera batteries and chargers. This website is helpful for sussing that out: www.walkabouttravelgear.com/electy.htm.

I also carry a camera bag backpack, a Tamrac Adventure 7 (www.crutchfield.com) that has 2 main compartments. On the bottom is my camera, charger, batteries, converters, media, etc. In the top compartment I carry my coat, a book, water and my small passport organizer from LL Bean that holds my tickets, passport, money, and credit cards. I like to keep all my important information in one place. This organizer never leaves my sight. During the day I carry it in my camera bag but at night it doubles as my purse when we go out to dinner. The backpack can easily be worn on my back while pulling my small carry on clothing bag.

If you find when you have returned home that you wore everything in your bag at least once, then you did very well. I recommended writing down or photographing exactly what you took, so next time packing will be a breeze.

Lastly, I send myself an email to my password protected website server listing important information like passport and credit card numbers, flight confirmation, hotel information, etc., so I do not have to carry all those papers on me. (Remember, the key is to travel light and every little bit helps.) I can easily access the information if I need it at an internet café.

That’s all for now.  Next Month: Journey to New Zealand and How to Survive a Long Flight. Until next time, safe travels. Enjoy the journey. Caryn B. Davis

The above photographs are from my travels with Orbis to Burma, The Philippines, Cuba, China,  Morocco.

Caryn B. Davis (www.cbdphotography.com) is a commercial, editorial, architectural, marine and portrait photographer with a studio in Chester, CT. Her photographs have been published in over 60 national and international magazines, and she has numerous exhibitions to her credit. Her work has been written about in many local newspapers, national magazines and trade journals. She was also interviewed on WNPR’s “Where We Live” by host John Dankosky about her self-assigned photo essay entitled Chester Stories. (To listen: Log onto www.cpbn.org/program/where-we-live.) Caryn began her career in the visual arts 24 years ago as a Producer/Writer of television documentaries. In addition to writing scripts, Caryn also works as a journalist. Her articles have been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers including Ink (www.inkct.com)and Northeast Boating. Caryn is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers, presents slides lectures, and teaches photography to adults and children. She enthusiastically and artistically photographs people, places and things at home and abroad.