I met Kay Thomas the winter we decided to live at home and I started this blog. I saw an advert in the newspaper for a free four session writing class being offered at our local library. Just arriving back in country I had already missed the first meeting and almost didn’t go. Boy am I glad I didn’t let that stop me. The class was a great opportunity to meet some other amazing writers and Kay and I have been encouraging each other ever since. I was drawn to her life story and ambition at writing. Not to mention her story telling like how she used to fly small planes as a hobby…oh yeah and that one time she almost crashed.
It is my great pleasure to introduce Kay Thomas and I hope you enjoy this post.
I am going to make an assumption. The majority of you reading Vagabond Way are young adventurers with bounds of energy, determination and a basic wanderlust for seeing the world. How marvelous. I applaud each and every one of you for not letting anything interfere with your lifestyle.
However, you might be surprised then that a 73-year old woman can be just as passionate about traveling. Well, here I am, Kay Thomas, freelance writer, retired teacher, wife and mother all rolled into one exuberant voyager with two trips into the future planning stages (New Zealand and an African safari). Take a glance over at my professional website to see what I am all about: http://kathomaswriter.com.
I have never been known as a traditional woman ever since I took my earliest car and train trips with my parents growing up on eastern Long Island. Travel has been in my blood, and although I have tent camped, fussed with a pop-up camper, toured in a luxurious RV, traveled with family and soloed all over the world, at my age common sense prevails and I find it best to travel internationally on small group tours with others. Someone else handles a lot of the worries now, and I find it less stressful when I am gone from home. My preferred tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel, fits my bill perfectly ‒ active, inquisitive and desiring to engage with locals. (Tiff’s note – we have also personally used Intrepid Travel and can recommend them too.)
If I were to give out advice, first of all, I would say to “just do it” and break out of your comfort zone a little bit at a time. Easy does it ‒ one weekend trip at a time. There’s a game that we play at our house about once a year. My husband and I draw a 150- mile radius from our house on a map, close our eyes and one of us puts a pin on a location. We select a place to stay nearby and figure out how to make the most of our time in that location. It’s also good practice for keeping our travel skills sharp, and checking out our new electronics, suitcases and clothing.
Secondly, do your research. There’s nothing worse than not being prepared. Know about the place where you are going, rough costs and any problems you might encounter. Before you leave home register with the State Department. Go to the U.S. Passport and International Travel website and enroll in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan if you haven’t already done so, and you will have the latest information in case of emergency while away. Put the app Smart Traveler on your phone for handy reference to the State Department. In light of recent situations around the world, it is a wise plan.
Finally, make sure that your body and mind are able to handle your adventure realistically. There is a lot of flexibility and patience required.
When I travel I create a free blog using Blogspot – my most recent ones which you can check out are Tour Morocco With Kay and Tour Japan With Kay. It is my method of keeping a travel journal combined with informing my family and readers. In addition I write a bi-weekly column in the Livingston County News, Geneseo, NY, http://thelcn.com about my travels.
I also write books. My most recent travel book, Shimmering Japanese Sunlight, is about one woman’s experience traveling in Japan where I discover the unexpected in a treasure of an island country. You’ll read how I engage with the politeness of the people and the surprising quietness on crowded city streets.
A second travel book, A Smidgen of Irish Luck, relates that I saw extraordinary where there is ordinary, engaged in conversations in the oddest of places and adjusted to the inevitable raindrops like a local. Both books are available on Amazon.
I returned from a Moroccan Sahara Odyssey trip in the fall and put some thoughts down on paper. This is what I wrote.
The desert changed me. I knew that instantly when I rode away in the 4×4 up and over the dunes to the main road over 45 miles away.
A Sahara Desert (Northern Africa) tent camping experience in October made me a different person and I am barely able to put it into words. The mere notion that a writer is stumped is remarkable. I felt something powerful stirring deeply within my soul. I also assumed that thoughts would come to me, and I had to let things go. In fact, I needed to be far, far away from the desert to figure it all out.
Wise men have gone to the desert in the past – some have wandered there for a long time – and filled their wells. Throughout my years I have had life changing experiences, and as a result, I discovered a new path. I was willing to trust and believed all would be well.
I asked the fifteen other travelers if they had had a similar experience, and although the desert adventure was the highlight of everyone’s trip to exotic Morocco, no one felt it as intensely as me, or at least was willing to speak of it. Perhaps, we were all in a processing phase.
Let me fill in the blanks for you about this adventure. The travel company owns space about 25 miles from the Algerian border and manages a private camp with local staff. Each one of us had an individual tent with a toilet, shower and sink – thank you, solar power. Luxurious I would say, and not like my youthful tent camping days.
Thinking about the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, and reading biographies of such desert aficionados as Gertrude Bell, all whom had a convoy of servants, survival on the desert must be taken seriously.
When I showed up at camp – all my clothes had been previously bug-proofed – I looked out into a sandy expanse of flats and dunes with only a single lowly bush in sight. The beating sun overhead made sunglasses a necessity in high 80s temperatures – autumn in the desert – and I took another drink of water. I headed for a traditional tajine lunch – a stew cooked in a dome clay pot – with hot mint tea in the dining tent.
Before our group arrived at camp, our caravan stopped in the last dusty little town at a grocery store that had a counter with an expanse of supplies behind it. We gave the owner our list – each of us contributed a couple dollars ‒ and he put the pile by the door. We bought essentials ‒ cooking oil, grains – in hopes of finding a nomad family somewhere near our camp to share our gifts.
Later that afternoon we went out in our 4×4’s searching and we came upon an encampment. Our tour guide hopped out and spoke with a woman of about 45 or so, and she invited all 16 of us to sit under an open tent for mint tea and conversation (through our guide as interpreter) while she carded wool. Her teenage daughter was nearby herding in the goats, and was too shy to speak. The husband was off is a distant town working construction and came home infrequently. I had to pinch myself to remember what time period I was actually in.
The woman and her daughter, like more than 80,000 estimated Berber people with a traditionally nomadic and pastoral lifestyle, are illiterate but desert savvy. Women hold down the home fort pretty much in Berber society.
Who is to say that nomads should strive for more – education and health care ‒ for making a better future for their children? They don’t know any differently. That became a lively topic of discussion around the dinner table in the evening.
After a tour of her humble shelter with its simple furnishings, we brought out our gifts. She was grateful, hung her head and averted her eyes, which is the custom. She said soon they would move on when the water supply got too low.
Before bedtime the stars dotted the southern sky as far as I could stretch my neck and I played guessing games figuring out some of the constellations. The temperatures cooled to the mid 50s and I slept like a baby.
The next morning I woke up way before the sun rose when all I could see was a faint outline of the other tents. I was too excited to stay in bed any longer and I climbed a nearby dune to the top. I proceeded to worship God in a natural sanctuary, and it was a special moment of thanksgiving. I saw the outline of a fellow traveler on a distant dune doing yoga, and another taking photos.
Now looking back on those incredible days, I understand that the desert brought me to focusing on being in the present like nothing else has done before in my life.
The desert’s solitude offered a message that quietness of mind and body is necessary for my existence.
The daytime desert sky in its cerulean blue is always amazing because the light is just different and gives clarity to the visual. But the night sky … well, there is the stumbling for words. The stars. The stars.
Natural beauty was imprinted on my soul.
If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about Kay Thomas, please check out her site http://kathomaswriter.com. If you enjoyed this, you may consider giving one of her books as your next gift. 🙂 And don’t forget to always have good Travel Insurance whenever you are traveling!