By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Travel Editor
One of the best things about working at the Advertiser's travel desk for 14 years has been learning so much about the world, frequently through journeys taken by you, the readers.
Who knew, for example, that you can visit cities made of ice in China or that Mali's mud mosques wash away each rainy season only to be rebuilt? Or that roaming polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, end up in "polar bear jail," or that you can bicycle across the Uzbekistan desert.
While city reporters sat through debates about rail, the Superferry, civil unions and furlough Fridays, I was editing stories about ballooning over Turkey, wine tours in Sonoma, and walking into Petra, the "Rose City," at dawn.
Hawai'i folks love to travel — not just to the ninth island in Nevada — but to far-off, fascinating places. Take the Ramblin' Roses, Lou and Joan Rose, who sold house and furniture and put on their boots and backpacks, all so they could "go for it," sending us regular reports from life on the road. "World travel has shaken our minds out of the ruts they might have fallen into with retirement," wrote Joan Rose this week.
Getting out of a rut is what travel is all about. In the 1980s, I spent a year working and circumnavigating the globe, an experience that 25 years later remains one of the best in my life.
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness," wrote Mark Twain in "The Innocents Abroad" — as timely a comment now as in 1869.
So, thank you, everyone, whose contributions brought foreign places, cultures, foods and adventures home to the Islands to share, including those stories we couldn't use when our travel budget went very far south.
In this final Advertiser Travel section, we revisit some remarkable journeys.
In 2009, long-distance trekker, author and peace activist Brandon Wilson and his wife, Cheryl, left Maui to tackle one of the world's most challenging walks: the Via Alpina, a high-altitude trans-Alpine trail snaking across the rooftop of Europe.
"Trekking across the Alps 1,200 miles on the Via Alpina was the most physically challenging thing we've done in our lives," wrote Wilson. "An expedition filled with extreme highs and lows from freezing temperatures atop Alpine passes to dreaded Fohn winds, hail, ice fields, snow, and more than 40 days of rain — and this was summer weather."
For such seasoned trekkers, however, no hardship could detract from "the rarefied beauty and serenity, wildlife, legends, delicious cuisine and eccentric folks they met as they hiked in the shadows of Mont Blanc, the Eiger, Mt. Triglav and the Dolomite Range."
"It was great fun," Wilson said. "And an unbeatable weight-loss plan!"
Find out more: http://viaalpina.org.
Earlier this year we wrote about one couple's incredible journey that straddled Europe and Asia. Blaise Trigg-Smith and Tom Damek cycled from Germany to China, a cool 6,000 miles.
Without special training, armed with youth and a lust for adventure, the couple set off on a five-month journey cycling through Europe, along the lip of the Uzbekistan desert, across dizzying mountain passes, calling at ancient cities along the Old Silk Road. Their trip raised $20,000 for two charities.
Find out more: http://happypedalers.wordpress.com.
Chick Alsop and his companion Aisha jumped aboard a freight-hauling canal boat to experience family life with a husband and wife team on Da Yunhe, China's Grand Canal. "Unfortunately, an otherwise fabulous experience turned bittersweet due to the language barrier," wrote Alsop. "We simply could not convey our gratitude and admiration, and that left us overwhelmed with sadness as we watched them sail away." Sadness turned to joy when their Chinese friend, Ms. Juan, sent Zhang and Zhou a translated copy of the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper article. "Now they understand and we are happy," said Alsop.
Find out more: http://travelchinaguide.com.
Guy Sibilla honored his trumpet-playing, mountaineering Italian friend Marco Confortola, after the latter was airlifted from K2 following a 2004 avalanche that killed 11 climbers.
Sibilla and Confortola had climbed together on a previous K2 expedition, when, at 17,000 feet, in the freezing, aching silence of the night, Confortola had produced his trumpet to serenade fellow climbers with the music of Miles Davis.
Find out more: http://explorersweb.com.
From India, photographer Dana Forsberg and Paula Stockman brought us a snapshot of village life following a trip to Chhattisgarh, where the Honolulu-based Sahayog Foundation supports a project teaching young girls to use digital cameras.
On return, Forsberg and Stockman produced a wonderful exhibition and sale of the girls' photographs at the Pegge Hopper Gallery in Chinatown to raise funds for the project. "I wanted to go to India but not as a tourist," Forsberg said. "This was a way for us to help build the girls' self confidence and move their lives forward."
Find out more: http://sahayogfoundation.org.
Landlocked, sunbaked, dusty and as different from Hawai'i as it's possible to be, Mali challenges even the most game traveler.
In her 2,000-photo essay, photographer Isabella Gioia recorded daily life traveling from the capital Bamako to Timbukto, Mali's doorstep to the Sahara desert. "What I like most is to see countries and people very different from my own culture," said Gioia. "The tribes are astonishing, different both to us and to each other in their beliefs, dialect, work, religion, even physical appearance."
Find out more: http://lonelyplanet.com/mali.
Pearl Harbor marine mammologist Julie Rivers courageously drove 2,000 miles solo around South Africa and braved massive surf to dive at Sodwana Bay, the "Serengeti of the sea" and then visited Kruger National Park.
"Every day was jaw-dropping," Rivers said. "Every day was amazing and new; the diversity, the wildlife and realizing how very complicated South Africa is."
Find out more: http://southafrica.org.
In 2005, James Dannenberg wrote about a road trip with his son that didn't just cross the U.S. from coast to coast but followed the shape of the contiguous Mainland U.S., a plan that resulted in an 8,000-mile counterclockwise journey — the mother of all road trips.
"It's intoxicating to charge the horizon wearing a car like a comfortable suit of clothes," Dannenberg wrote.
In their rented Chrysler, on the open road, the Dannenbergs faced tough decisions on what to see and what to miss. They passed on Monument Valley but dawdled through Yellowstone. They made an end run around Washington D.C. but stood at Ground Zero on the eve of its third anniversary.
Find out more: http://lonelyplanet.com.
And, in "Frontier Days," Allan Seiden wrote about another side of American culture, celebrating all things Western in Cheyenne, Wyo., with a Big Island contingent of paniolo that included Ikua Purdy's grandson.
"I've long been a rodeo fan, having gone to events at Makawao, Waimea and Waimanalo," said Seiden. "The stamina, skill and courage required in riding bucking horses and bulls is impressive."
Find out more: http://cfrodeo.com
In Peru, Jesse Szymanski went looking for the lost city of Machu Picchu, with many adventures before he got there: hiking crumbling portions of the Incan trail, soaking his bones in huge slate hot springs, and an unexpected, hair-raising bicycle ride. But finally, rising before dawn, he walked up the same stone stairs that Hiram Bingham climbed in 1911 when Bingham stumbled upon the well-hidden "lost city."
"South America is full of wonder, the other America, with more freedom than what the text books say," wrote Szymanski. I spent four months mostly alone, hitchhiking more than 8,000 miles, finding beauty in high contrast. From the Atacama Desert, to massive glacier lakes, the roar of Buenos Aires to the beaches of Brazil, they have all etched a mark on my heart."
Find out more: http://machupiccu.org.
And, in Brazil, nature enthusiasts and birders Karen and Alan Stockton visited Iguazu Falls National Park, where South America's immense falls mark the border with Argentina. A high-rising mist around the falls creates a semitropical haven for birds, butterflies, big cats, giant anteaters, monkeys and hundreds of orchid species. "Whichever side of the falls you visit — and both sides are thrilling," said the Stocktons — "a drenching, exhilarating experience awaits."
Find out more: http://lonelyplanet.com/argentina
Experiencing a country via public transport was a favorite for many travelers. Jim Loomis of Maui loves train journeys and wrote about stepping aboard the Ghan, Australia's legendary train ride from Darwin to Adelaide across more than 1,800 miles of outback.
(The outback) is mostly very hot and very dry," wrote Loomis. "In fact, that is precisely why camels were brought to Australia during the late 19th century, to carry men and supplies into the Outback for the building of this very rail line. The Afghan herders who came with the camels were nicknamed "ghans" by the Aussies, and it's from them that this train got its name."
Find out more: http://theghan.com
Falling for the penguins is expected for visitors to the Antarctic Peninsula, and Pat Henry was no exception when he stepped ashore at Greenwich Island, the gateway to the White Continent. "How much cuter could they be?" he wrote. The austere beauty of the Antarctic Peninsula had a profound effect on Henry. "Hiking on Booth Island and looking out over that landscape, sometimes with no one in sight, it was easy to imagine how it would feel to be the only person in the world," he said.
Find out more: http://coolantarctica.com.