Looking back at my favourite travel experiences of the year

For as long as I have been travelling, I have discovered that every trip generates at least one unforgettable memory that forever defines that journey. These are moments that are seared into my mind that I originally referred to as “epiphanies.” Even as you experience them, you realize they are happening and that you’ll never forget them. I suppose it’s what we would refer to today as mindfulness.

I was fortunate enough to travel to a variety of interesting places this year and thought this would be a good time to look back and reflect on what were the most interesting experiences I enjoyed in 2023 and what were some of those moments that were this year’s epiphanies.

Learning about the Little Rock Nine

When I was in the Arkansas capital of Little Rock, I visited Little Rock Central High School, the only active high school in America that is a national historic site. Our guide, park ranger Randy Dotson, an ex-Marine with a voice like Samuel L. Jackson, put us into the shoes of the nine black teenagers who tried to enter the all-white school in 1957, one of the pivotal moments of America’s civil rights struggle. It was a moving story that had most of us teary-eyed and it was one that I’ll never forget. Even more amazing was when we went to visit the Bill Clinton Presidential Library that day, we saw, from the distance, the surviving members of this group of brave teenagers who were being hosted for a special luncheon.

Marching in the Festa dos Tabuleiros

festa dos tabuleirosEvery four years as part of a religious procession, thousands of women march more than six kilometres through the streets of Tomar, Portugal with towering baskets weighing as much as two bowling bawls on their heads in an event known as The Festa dos Tabuleiros. They are accompanies by male companions who are there to help them when needed. It’s an incredible spectacle that is worth experiencing, but as a media member, I had the special privilege of actually marching in the parade in order to get close-up photographs and video. The only catch was I had to wear the traditional costume for men of black pants, dress shoes, white shirt and a red tie! It’s an emotional experience for the participants and being that close to them really made me understand how special an event this was.

Communing with the spirit of Gary Gygax

Way back in the 1970s when I was in high school, a group of us played Dungeons & Dragons. We played it for years and one of the names that was familiar to us because it was printed on all of the game books was Gary Gygax, one of D&D’s co-creators. The other name that was familiar was Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the headquarters for the company that published the game. I was invited on a press trip to learn about Lake Geneva the resort town, but I went because I wanted to find out more about the birthplace of this gaming phenomenon. My highlight was sitting in the reading throne in the city’s public library where Gygax would pore over fantasy books to find inspiration while writing his game.

Seeing the volcanoes near Mexico City

I’ve seen volcanoes before in places like Costa Rica and Iceland, but getting to watch the smoke spew from El Popo near Mexico City was a treat. More properly known as Popocatépetl, this  is one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes and a common enough site that residents don’t even notice the grey plumes of ash that it belches on a regular basis. My press group was taking a tour of a hotel in Puebla, a particularly boring activity that is a common fixture for these kind of trips when we spotted the volcano doing its thing. The poor hotel manager tried to continue extolling the virtues of her establishment, but we were too interested in looking out the windows at the distant volcano.

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