What Are We Doing Here?

Giraffe 
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to
go. I travel for travel’s sake.

 The
great affair is to move.
– ROBERT
LOUIS STEVENSON

Precisely.

A long time ago, when there were still independent
bookstores, I found some little tour books about Soviet cities – Leningrad,
Moscow, Kiev – published by the Novosti Press in Moscow. I still have them
today.

When I see the odd travel guide to an offbeat destination
like Yemen, say, or Gabon, I buy it without even opening the front cover. Far
away places are just plain alluring, and the more exotic the better.

But how to find out about them? Lots of travel books detail
the author’s vast, grimly accumulated knowledge of this or that historical
oddity, and sometimes it’s only tenuously connected to the traveling they’re
actually doing. Lengthy explanations of 14th century funerary rites
in Assam, or the surprising mating rituals of arboreal reptiles can grow
quickly tedious – and I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

And on the internet, let’s face it: Nobody cares what Phil
and Jenny paid for every hotel room in every town in Andalusia (converted to
dollars, to the penny), and nobody wants to read the loving list of every dish
at every meal Mr. and Mrs. Kincaid enjoyed on this, their seventh trip to Kerala.

I want to know what I’d find if I hopped aboard a flight
somewhere. What’s it like right now?

Since my first meek little trip off the continent, to London
in 1984, I’ve poked around odd parts of the planet, mostly with my beautiful wife Mirja, an intrepid Finn I met in Helsinki.

Jeffrey Tayler says that to stay young, we need novelty in
regular doses. Within the constraints of our day jobs, Mirja and I have seen
little snips of places that previously existed only in books, from Greenland to
Madagascar to Papua New Guinea, to Albania just after it threw off
totalitarianism.

The stuff here on Common Sense and Whiskey may not always be steeped in history or detail. Sometimes it's more about the trip than the destination, and sometimes the other way 'round. I hope some of the stories make you feel how it felt to be there. In any case, I’m
pretty sure everything here is sufficiently unencumbered by ponderous history
and unnecessary tram schedules.

*****

Read some stories.

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Zimbabwe Had So Much: A Really Sad, Sad Thing

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Zimbabwe humanitarian crisis 'critical,' opposition warns

Zimbabwe about to 'implode'


South Africa: Zimbabwe facing ruin

Zimbabwe 'may soon collapse'

All these headlines are from the past couple of days, but you've been seeing headlines like them for years now – long enough for a whole sub-genre of Zimbabwe memoir books to surface, with titles like:
House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe,
Through the Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe and
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa.

This photo is of a thriving downtown Harare in 1995. I remembered Harare fondly as a friendly city that worked, so I went back and found some of the things I wrote while visiting there, and to reread them today against the backdrop of those headlines is just astonishing.

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This Photo Cost Me a Lens

Serbia22 The light was so pretty as we left Novy Beograd, crossing the Sava River bridge, that when traffic backed up, I jumped out of the cab and ran to the median to take this picture looking downtown. While I was out there the taxi edged ahead of me and before I knew it, my wife and our friend Gordana came into view along the sidewalk. They had paid the cabbie and let him go. Trouble was, I had left a bag with a telephoto lens on the seat, and I didn't tell them.

This was spring of 1997, during the long, slow suspended-animation fall of the Milosevic regime.


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In Defense of Colonialism

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Douwe Osinga, who created a customizable Visited Countries Map (ours is shown), writes in defense of colonialism.

Congo Conflict Challenges Conservation

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We've written recently about our visit to the Congo border at Goma, and previously about the plight of the mountain gorillas in Congo. Now comes a new story, Mountain Gorillas at Mercy of Congo War Factions, on Reuters Africa.

It's such a confusing and sordid situation that, with allegiances shifting, neighboring governments involved, mineral wealth at play and wounds still open from the 1994 Rwanda genocide, it takes a scorecard to sort out the battle lines. But the conflict gives every indication of escalating yet again.

The leaders of Congo and Rwanda, Laurent Kabila and Paul Kagame, declined to seize an opportunity this week, speaking only briefly with one another when they were both in Nairobi for a summit, suggesting a test of strength is ahead before real negotiations begin.

Meanwhile Portuguese is now heard among government soldiers in eastern Congo, suggesting the introduction of Angolan troops as sought by Congo. The Southern African Development Community said it would send
military advisers to help the Kabila government. In reply, Congolese Tutsi militia leader Nkunda declared that "If they come in and fight… I am ready to fight them".

There is a compelling blog on the web site of Congo's now-abandoned Virunga National Park, culminating with this post on 26 October, in which the 50-odd rangers were forced into the forests to run for their lives toward the relative safety of Goma.

Aid agency Caritas International has a blog from Goma, last post 10 November, in German, or translated by Google into English.

And for revealing, if depressing background, read Johann Hari in the Independent.

There are an estimated 700+ mountain gorillas left on the planet, and at risk in this conflict, on the sides of the Virunga Mountains that form a portion of the Uganda, Rwanda and Congo borders.

See our Mountain Gorilla Gallery and Rwanda Gallery on EarthPhotos.com.

(Photo from EarthPhotos.com)

On Airport Security, Jeffrey Goldberg and Matryoshka Dolls

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Photo from EarthPhotos.com

In the current Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg writes about his adventures thwarting the Transportation Safety Administration. He uses fake boarding passes, carries banned items aboard aircraft and such, and for the most part depicts a hapless, inept TSA.

This is not news to anyone who has flown domestically since 2001. Part of the (relative) pleasure of flying point to point outside the United States is that you're largely treated as a grown up. But if an inept TSA is a problem, and Mr. Goldberg tells us it is, it seems to me the irreverent, wisecracking tone of the article diminishes that point.

Have to agree with Mr. Goldberg (here, on his Atlantic blog) though, that TSA Administrator Kip Hawley responded tepidly on the portentiously named TSA blog, Evolution of Security.

The photo above, by the way is from the long, urbane pedestrian plaza called “Traders Street”  in Baku, Azerbaijan. We bought  an Osama matryoshka doll, with the Biggest Terrorists Of All Time inside, and carried it home with us just like Jeffrey Goldberg did with Hezbollah flags, knives and books about jihad.

See more photos from Azerbaijan at EarthPhotos.com.

Glad to Have Seen It. Glad to Leave.

Pertinent to the previous post, and worth a read, is today's Ask the Pilot column by Patrick Smith in Salon. Smith visited a slum south of Dakar, Senegal, and wrote, "In the end I was glad to have seen it. And I was just as glad to leave."

Know what he means. A couple of places come to mind where I've thought the same thing. Pictures after the jump.

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Photographers Tackle Poverty

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from EarthPhotos.com's Rwanda gallery.

Blog Action Day '08 was Wednesday. This year's theme: Poverty.

Here are some photos from Digital Photography School.

The Case Against Business Class

from Pico Iyer.

Paul Theroux in LAT

Because we recently mentioned Paul Theroux in a CS&W post, I note that he wrote this editorial in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend.