McBrae's Travels

My first thought was to return to the archipelago of my ancestors, and relax a bit. So much had changed in 600 years, though, and no one had even heard of the ancestral estate, at least not in the main town.

The town's name reminded me of church, and was founded about a 1000 years ago. That's young in these parts, so the next morning I decided to cruise over to a 5000 year old village and catch the sunrise, even though it wasn't midwinter's eve.

There were a few tourists around the area, attempting to make sense of a runic riddle describing the location of some treasure. I've always offered the opinion that these particular runes were a Norse joke, as people just don't bury treasure and then leave public notes as to how to find it, at least not in the world I'm used to operating in.

I decided this wasn't the best place, so I rented a boat to explore more remote venues. What did I find but an 18th century marvel -- a castle so improbable in both design and location. This was the place to both relax and do what needed to be done.

They say the victors write the history books. My family is living proof, of course. But we are just the surface of that onion which no historian in his right mind is gonna risk tenure to peel back further. I think it all started with the Phoenicians, but that is a trip for another day, perhaps if the weather 'round here remains so cold and showery.

The proof abounds, for those with eyes to see, but sometimes people forget about the Towers. A remote Tower seemed like a good place to visit next.

There is a geographical anomaly, a single island with two names. This happens once in a while, I suppose, when the land is in two parts, joined by a narrow isthmus. Grande Miquelon and Langlade come to mind as a good example. Odd, but odder still is the fact that where I am now, the name of the half to the south of me spills across the isthmus and covers part of my island.

The weather was dreary as I got to the Standing Stones, but the Tower was only a Swedish mile further up the road to the north, so I ditched the car and walked the beautiful, treeless landscape, and had the good fortune of being able to contemplate the ruin in solitude.

As the rain and windy chill continued to grate on my old bones, I decided a change of temperature was in the cards after all. Though I didn't escape the wind when I got here, I could stay weeks or months without seeing a raindrop if I was lucky, and I'm usually lucky.

These Towers have always fascinated me, being that there are so many on the island, all designed and arranged as if there was some master plan, and by who knows who (although some have glimped the obvious connections). Some have estimated as many as 30,000 sites, though only several thousand have been found by the so-called "experts". That still seemed like alot to me, especially as relatively obscure as they are.

 

As much as I enjoyed wriggling into the narrow doorways of these prehistoric structures to escape the wind, and to hide what needed to be hidden, I think the real reason I keep coming back here is to sample the local unique liqueur and the interesting cuisine. And if I'm not careful, I'll get stuck on one of the beautiful, deserted sandy beaches and never leave. Oh well, where to next ... ?

D'oh! I forgot my shades, so I had to cruise on back home. I hadn't needed them until now, of course. One of my favorites of the Towers has to be the one close to home, so I went downtown to see if anyone had unraveled my old friend's enigma yet. Those who talk of traitors are barking up the wrong tree, of course, but one tough customer claims to have figured the whole kit and caboodle, if you can believe it. Those truly in the know always keep silent.

I've been here, before, of course, so there was no need to dawdle -- just take it easy, do what needed to be done, and get back to my travels.

 

 

Ah, Midsummer's Eve, my favorite day of the year. Where to spend it this year? Since They were expecting me to be at the obvious places, and I've spent it at all the obvious places before, I decided to go somewhere completely unexpected, where They would never think to look -- a place where I could watch the sun rise and set at the same time. How that is possible I'll leave the "experts" to figure out, but it is possible because I've seen it, and its worth watching at least once in your lifetime, but be sure to not forget your shades.

About 45 miles to the south, in the middle of the desert, is a waterfall. How improbable is that, I thought? It is a tremendous place of power and remoteness, and a place They will never think to look, or bother trying to get to. No tourists here, of course, but, like at the top of a rugged mountain, a cairn of rocks awaits you to joyously add to once you have completed your rugged journey to the place.

It was a busy day, and I was hungry. Back to where I watched the sun do its thing this morning (evening?) for a local delicacy, washed down with a shot of the local burnt wine.

I stayed there for awhile, but soon it came time to leave the land of contrast and improbabilities, and head back to civilization. Places of religion always seem to inspire, so I headed to a place where the fingerprints of the New and Old still lingered in harmony (unlike so many other parts of the world, sadly), often literally intertwined.

I strolled over to the cathedral, the largest in the region, which was set in the center of the 1400 year old town and one time power center, where the Old way officially yielded to the New a little over 900 years ago. As I became absorbed in the majestic and powerful architecture of the place, and the Old and New intertwined on the stones, an ironic thought occurred to me.

It seemed somewhat ironic that the modern day believers and followers of my ancestors and their comrades are also today's followers of the Old religion, the "W and W folks", as it were, yet of course it is well known and that my family's crowd were staunch defenders of the New. Funny how things work out sometimes, but it makes sense when you think about it -- it was never about Old nor New, but In or Out, though of course spirit and truth are eternal, even as the names, words, and trappings muddle. Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose ...

Oh well. Past the stones which speak more clearly than I, and on to the 400 plus year old castle, which has the best secret passage of any I've ever visited. This was a good place, where would it lead to next ...

I came to a capital of yesteryear, about 30 miles west of the land's present day capital city. This place was strategically built on one of a score of islands, scattered about half as many lakes. This lake's name derives from the word for "head" in the local language, or so I'm told, and local lore has it that this is because the lake needs to sacrifice someone's head, or perhaps because the lake looks like a head. I didn't comprehend the local lore, nor the local language, but found the place beautiful to look at and explore just the same.

Though not a truly free country for all that long, this land has a rich history, interesting architecture, and natural treasures, and I never tire of coming back here, despite it being a touch outside of my traditional stomping grounds. Whether its to walk the narrow, cobbled streets of the capital's old town, or to prospect for amber on the beach after a springtime storm, its a fun and interesting place to visit. And most importantly, they have good, though not well known, beer here.

After I was done here, I wasn't sure where to go next. Globetrotting, and writing about it, can burn you out ...

I got the sense that They were getting on to me. They could be quite clever, with their computers and other annoyances, so I had to continue to be sharp. They had a couple of 2000 year old secrets, that to me, were no big deal, but people can get so up in arms about what to me seemed the most natural and normal things.

It seemed a good time to throw Them a curve ball, to fade away to a remote place, where at first glance, one would have no clue which hemisphere to even look in, much less which continent, though the local language with its double "Q" and other curiosities could be a giveaway, as could a local meat, (which tastes somewhat like liver, incidentally), illegal in many other parts of the world. It always seemed to me a bit odd that foods, spirits or drugs could be perfectly normal in one place, then you cross some imaginary line that They set up along time ago, and all the sudden the rules change. Do people change also as they cross these imaginary lines? Does Right and Wrong change?

I didn't need to show a passport to visit this place, (which of course was the idea, and they laughed at me when I tried to get mine stamped at the post office), nor did the first outsiders, who gave this place its original name as part of a marketing scam, perhaps the only so-named place in the world? Though they explored this land over 1000 years ago, they only discovered this village, the largest on its coast, a little over 100 years ago. Seemed like as good a place as any to do some hiding.

I've always had a soft spot for royalty, when done right anyway. I often wonder what the United States, for example, would be like today if my ancestors had had their way and we managed to establish a monarchy instead. Better? Worse? Few know how close this dream came to becoming reality.

My other soft spots, obviously, are castles and mountains, so I set off to find all three. I'm not sure that I did, but it was a novelty all the same to find a place where the head of state actually lives in their own twelfth century castle, rather than those boring government mansions and apartments they move into and out of every few years. This was as good a place to be as anywhere, I figured, as it wasn't a tourist trap open to the public.

As I sat downtown admiring the stunning view and my dinner of local wild stag, it occurred to me that this was only one of two countries in the world where a certain geographical fact was true, the other being Uzbekistan. I've never been to Uzbekistan, though I imagine similar scenery in places. Perhaps I should go there next ...

So I moved onto the capital of a land where they love their king. Though there are many ancient cities in this land worth visiting, the capital is my favorite, as you can stroll around all quarters of the uncrowded, scenic and clean city, and no one will bother you. One thing I found fascinating about this place was how the drivers totally disregarded traffic lights, and consequently, intersections were bedlam. Not a place for a rookie to book a rent-a-car. I did what I needed to do in this place, and otherwise didn't have the will to write much else today.

I had just been to plenty of cold, rainy, bizarre, and hectic places, and with winter approaching, it seemed a good time to set sail for more relaxing, and warmer latitudes.

I found this gem of an island, that, though fairly small, ran the gamut with four star beaches, rain forest hiking and birding, and its most striking and famous features, the pair of verdant mountains rising out of the sea, bookending a beautiful, though developed beach.

The northern one was not climbable, without gear, or so I was told, but there was supposedly a strenuous, though hikable trail to the summit of the southern one. Though I came to lay on the beach, I guess a hike up a mountain, even in paradise, will always trump the boredom of lazing around on the beach sipping umbrella drinks, as far as I'm concerned.

I made my way down the rocky road to the small village at the base to find the trail, but instead found a "guide" that I would "need" to guide me to the top, for a wallet thinning $60 to follow a trail. The trail was strenuous, and many of the lobster-skinned tourists couldn't handle it, or so my "guide" told me, but the views from the top were well worth it. Since few people were going to make it up here, it seemed, this was a good place for number eleven.

While I was enjoying the view, I was a bit surprised when my "guide" offered me some local ganga; when I declined, he went on toking without me, while I considered the odd fact that the taller of the peaks is called "small" in the local dialect, and the shorter of the two is named "big". He explained to me why this was, and it made sense, sort of, when looked at from the right angle.

Back at the resort, I enjoyed the local brew named for these mountains, which admittedly was not in the same league as some of those sampled earlier in my travels.

It has been a long trip, and it was time to really get away from it all, find a low key place and a beach were no one could ever find me.

So my final destination was a few islands away, to one of the most special places on the planet. Unlike most of the islands in the region, this place is not volcanic in origin, nor covered with rain forest; it is best described as a big hunk of coral covered with scrubby brush and cacti, and ringed with over two dozen beaches, most of them uncrowded and world class. Few tourists come here, for there are no high rises, casinos, or package tour hotels, but those few who do come here return season after season, and are passionately loyal to the place.

Its hard to see why, at first, when you step off the boat, usually from a much more spectacularly scenic place, or a place in another riddle, but it doesn't take long for the magic to take hold. Its just different here -- whether its the small, but fantastic beachside or cliffside restaurants, friendly islanders, or remote beaches.

The remote beach I ended up on is actually one of the more famous ones on the island, despite its small size and hidden location. I figured to have the place to myself, as the only way to get there is by boat, or with a little know how via a little known technique that is not for everyone. Typically people bring their snorkeling gear for some of the best snorkeling on the planet, a picnic lunch, or their best friend; I simply brought myself, my thoughts and experiences, and one last thing to leave behind. As I filled the final page of my journal, whose words and pictures I hoped would provide amusement to whomever stumbled upon it, I realised, of all things, that the name of this island appeared on an earlier page, in a way that no one will ever figure out, even when they figure it out ...  cool, an unintended riddle ...

As I gazed out at the tranquil sea, and considered the past, present, and future, I never wanted to return to the world.

Note: "Territory" means country or "quasi country". There is no great way to define what this means, and no list is perfect; I just happen to use the Traveler's Century Club list. This means that The United States, Alaska, Hong Kong, England, and Finland are examples of territories, whereas North Carolina and the UK are not.