PW Travels

Putney Westerfield's Trip Reports

In 2011, Putney wrote this piece reflecting on his years of travel for the 50th reunion of his Yale class of 1951.

Fifty Years, Five Million Miles

Born to roam, but always home. So it seemed in childhood. Raised at Yale in an intellectually humming family, my earliest memories are picturing the plains of Troy, the out-reaches of the Roman Empire, the hordes of Genghis Khan, the image of Ramses, and of Nefcrtiti (intriguing in a different way). Drawing maps, continent by continent, was a hobby. Youth hostel bicycle trips to far-off Massachusetts were meticulously planned but never consummated. My maiden flight, to St. Thomas in 1951, fueled fantasies; previously I had never been beyond New York City except for Princeton games.
Graduation led promptly to Hong Kong and six years' residence in Asia. Fifty years and one hundred ten countries later, the travel lust remains insatiable, the distant horizon still beckons. However, travel has dramatically changed.
For most of us, graduation led to travel and the choices were slim: trains to grad school or military bases, troop transports, navy duty, cruises to Europe, occasional flights. 1 remember double-decker stratocruisers, zooming at 180 mph, with real beds and sheets, 50 hours to Hong Kong. Refueling oases such as Wake, Guam, Gander and Thule, Shannon, Midway, Fairbanks and the Azores.
Jets and direct flights have lowered flight time 75 percent. Fares, in constant dollars, are a fraction of midcentury rates. Consider today's courier roundtrips to London for $250 or Bangkok for $450. A maximum of $800 will take one to almost any country. And seniors benefit by $297 round trips anywhere in the United States. How can we afford to stay home?
Telecommunications now make it more difficult to escape civilization. In my six years in Asia in the fifties I never had voice contact with anyone back in the land of the roundeyes. Letters were still in vogue. Often they took the shape of diaries. I still have two hundred pages of onionskin carbons pounded out on a trusty Royal in Korea and Vietnam. In those early decades sickness and health were a concern. Then came bottled water, WHO, new pills, new shots. Illness is now rare.
Formerly inaccessible places can now be seen. Dawns and sunsets on so many more majestic mountains, glistening rivers, idyllic islands, tropical rainforests, spotless beaches, fearsome deserts . . . archaeological wonders, cultural masterpieces . . . and remote tribes unknown even to Jungle Jim Kennedy. Apart from lands blocked by ethnic or religious wars, dictators no longer dictate what we shall see and do. Truly half the world has been opened to us in the past twenty-five years. What a feast! So much to see. So little time.

Cole Porter (Yale 1916) named his first show See America First. It flopped, but America hasn't. Its natural glories are inexhaustible; its cultural diversity intriguing. Historical landmarks dot every state. I've crossed our nation by car six times; it's like an appetizer. Select "blue highways." Take seriously the quip: thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel across the country without seeing anything (somewhat like becoming an expert on Africa by flying low over each country).

Frisbee Diplomacy
Four jobs over forty years introduced me to forty-five countries. Pleasure added another sixty or more, often tacked onto business trips, resulting in an estimated five million miles, many by foot. Whenever possible Anne or a child or two accompanied me. Grandchildren are next: see America first, yes, but turn them into internationalists early on. When off the beaten path, we recommend traveling with Frisbees (pioneered by Yale students flipping the pans of New Haven's Frisbee Pie Company). Frisbees make instant friends of any age. Leave them behind so that your spirit may fly with them for eternity. We picture ours still flying after thirty years in war-torn Yugoslavia, hopeless Haiti and far-off Siberia.
What is the magic in all this? My favorite quotes are by English adventurer Richard Burton in 1856:
Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the feathers of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares, man feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood. Afresh dawns the morn of life.
Peregrinations charm our senses with such unspeakable and sweet variety, that some count him unhappy that never traveled—a kind of prisoner, and pity his case, that from his cradle to his old age, he beholds the same, and still the same.

Tourist? Traveler?
Most of us are a blend of tourist and traveler. Tourists usually take advantage of the myriad of opportunities to travel in special interest groups with knowledgeable leaders. AYA trips are as good as it gets. Tourism eases travel, providing comfort, security and familiarity; on the other hand there is less chance of personal involvement with the natives.
Tourists often view the adventure traveler as somewhat crazy. Freed from itineraries, from baggage, even from friends, a traveler has the expectation of personal discovery in lands less traveled and people less seen. Writes Paul Theroux: "Travel is the opposite of a holiday. It is about enlightenment and, at its best, about disappearance." Adventure travel provides opportunities to experience history, to project oneself into momentous events of the past. Here are some highlights:

Wives usually disappear on battlefield day. Nevertheless, to visit mankind's bloody landmarks is not only a lesson in military strategy, it is a vivid reminder of human courage, waste, ambition, political failure—landmarks in the sweep of history. My emotional sampling: Leningrad's 900 Days, Normandy, the Bulge, Anzio, Auschwitz, Dresden, Hiroshima ... Saipan, Okinawa, Wake, Leyte Gulf... Austerlitz, Borodino, Waterloo, Omdurman, Rorkes Drift . . . Hue's Citadel, Cu Chi's tunnels, Parrot's Peak . . . Yorktown, the Plains of Abraham, Gettysburg, Little Big Horn (the inescapable image of Errol Flynn) . . . Masada, the Golan over Galilee, Jericho and the West Bank . . . the Lahore-Delhi train at Partition ... Achilles at Troy ... Pizzaro at Cuzco ... Leonidas at Thermopylae, Themistocles at Salamis.
One can also experience a killing of the spirit: the tiny Ile de Goree off Dakar where two million slaves boarded ships from dungeon waiting-cells. Look, and ponder.
To refresh one's faith, visit the Townships of South Africa, Bombay's Ghandi Museum and its vibrant slums, and especially Mother Teresa's programs in Calcutta. (A Gallup poll named her "the most respected person of the century.") Visit "Mother House" and the homes for the dying, for the orphans, for the crippled and retarded. Marvel at the volunteers from around the world. Spend time with the supervising sisters. Feel the aura of all-consuming love.

Architectural and Cultural Wonders
Most awesome: the Upper Nile, from Abu Simbel and Valley of the Kings to Karnak and Abydos, on and on down to the Pyramids at Giza. And Cairo itself with its warm-scented evenings, mysterious bazaars and thousands of years of rule by Pharaohs, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Turks. Then, visit the Parthenon and imagine that you are Pericles in 432 B.C.: "Fix your eyes every day on the greatness of Athens and fall in love with her . . . mighty indeed are the marks and monuments of our empire ... future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now."
More marvels: the Taj Mahal at moonlight, Khajuraho's erotic excesses, Ankor Wat, buried in the jungle for seven hundred years ... a restored St. Petersburg . . . Sian's unearthed pottery: life- sized soldiers and officials . . . the mosques of Isfahan and the Persepolis of Darius and Xerxes ... Palmyra and Amapea in Syria, Ephesus and Pergamon in Turkey ... Machu Picchu on its lonely mountain top, gingerbreaded Sana and the fairytale skyscraper mud city of Shibam rising twelve stories in Yemen's Hydramawt. . . the rosy Nabatean city of Petra ... the Great Wall... Uxmal, Chitzen Itza and Tikal . . . the burning ghats of Varanasi... Jerusalem and all of Israel where every turn in the road seems to feature an historical moment from the Old Testament, Greeks, Romans, New Testament, Crusades, Islam, Six-Day War— all preceded by the Phoenicians and Neolithics
... the great cities of Europe: Rome, Florence, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Stockholm, Prague, Budapest, St. Petersburg and hundreds of medieval towns and picturesque villages ... the Hermitage and all Europe's famous museums . . . the opera houses of Milan, Paris, Vienna, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Budapest. . . and the weird operas of China and Japan . . .
... fascinating tribes: the Toraja of Sulawesi, the head-hunting, spear-toting Ifagao of northern Luzon, the Indians of Chichicastenango and gorgeous Lake Atitlan, of Oaxaca and Chiapas ... the Colorodos of Ecuador, Padung of Burma, Africa's Masai and Tutsi, the Meo of Vietnam, the Black Thai and White Thai of Laos, the Pygmies of Cameroon, the Dogon of Mali. They all like Frisbees.

Viewing Awesome Natural Beauty
Among the greatest sights: the Himalayas and Karakoram . . . mountainous waves at Sunset Beach, St. Francis Bay, Uluwatu and Mavaricks ... the volcanoes of Hawaii, Java, Oregon, Bali, and peaks of Chimborazo, Aconcagua, Denali . . . the Glacier Highway from Lake Louise to Jasper . . . Lake Tahoe, Lake Bikal (the world's largest), the Chilean lake country and wild Patagonia . . . Norway's North Cape . . . the beaches of Goa and Vietnam . . . the sand dunes of Oregon and Namibia . . . Jordan's Wadi Rhum . . . Kilimanjaro at sunrise (with lions circling my tent) . . . pack-tripping to Kashmir's Caves of Amarnath at eighteen-thousand feet with Hindu holy men . . . the enormity of Alaska's open space . . . the rich variety of Mexico . . . mighty Yosemite and the California coastal highway . . . the cozy places: Tuscany, Umbria, Provence, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Japanese villages. And my beloved New England in spring and fall.

Number One: India
For me the most eternally fascinating country is India with its vast diversity, ancient cultures, vibrant society, two of the world's great religions, colorful marketplaces, rites and rituals. Experience Indian Railways, employer of 1,700,000. Engage maharajahs and untouchables in conversation. Witness social and economic change in the world's largest democracy, soon to pass China in population. Six trips there and ready for more! Perhaps this is because so little changes, so much remains. Look at the rest of the world. Remember when there were no Macs or Gaps or look-a-like cityscapes jammed with polluting traffic, paved and mauled/mailed American style. Some of us long for the old days, for an era of uncorrupted indigenous culture. Admittedly such comments are unfair. Correctly we applaud economic growth, educational opportunity and improved healthcare. Perhaps we should not limit ourselves to the overly developed cities; instead, tread into the hinterland with its strange cultures and unspoiled natural beauty. Or the less-visited neighborhoods of any city. Why not mix with those who may be as fascinated to meet you as you to meet them?
Some years ago I was floating down the Cross River from Cameroon to Nigeria in a dugout canoe with two native kids. Climbing a steep embankment we entered a village. The inhabitants parted to form a passageway for us to approach their chief. My schoolboy escort advised me that they thought I was a missionary. The amply bellied chief, in colorful sarong and feathered hat, accepted my deep bow, and ushered me into his dank, dark hut.
From an old beat-up wooden chest he brought forth—tuh-DAH!—an old Coke bottle with rusty cap. Triumphantly we faced his villagers and ceremonially removed the cap. With proper gestures of respect, we handed the bottle back and forth, draining the hundred-degree, fizzless contents. Soon a veritable festival was underway. Cultural barriers melted. They usually do.

Lessons Learned
Mark Twain was right: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." Our attitudes and beliefs were shaped by parents, teachers and Yale. Certainly mine were. Nevertheless, direct interaction with others has affected me in ways that no amount of reading could have done. Isn't it true that our most memorable travel experiences occur when we stop off the beaten path and, for a brief moment, find ourselves alone with foreigners? Indeed, there can be revelations galore in that insecure world of strangers.
Travel has been an unending history course presented in living color. Natural wonders have been illuminated in awesome majesty. Travel has given meaning to my relationship to humanity everywhere. Travel has enriched my spirit and stimulated respect for all the great religions. In short, it has helped me discover who I am and what I want to stand for. Long ago I adopted the Genoese proverb: "It is far better to wear out one's shoes than one's sheets."

This excerpt from “Simple Truths” by Kent Nerburn offers a cogent explanation of why some of us love to travel. Putney's daughter-in-law Renee Westerfield found it for him.

Wanderlust, the urge for adventure, the desire to know what is over the next hill, are like echoes in the backs of our minds that speak of sounds not quite heard and places not quite seen.

You should listen to these echoes. Take the chances and follow the voices that call you to distant places. Live, if only for a short time, the life of a traveler. It is a life you will always cherish and never forget.

The magic of travel is that you leave your home secure in your own knowledge and identity, but as you travel, the world in all its richness intervenes. You meet people you could not invent; you see scenes you could not imagine. Your own world, which was so large as to consume your whole life, becomes smaller and smaller until it is only one tiny dot in space and time. You return a different person.

Travel doesn’t have to be to some dreamlike and foreign destination. It can take you on an evening stroll through a distant forest or to a park bench in a town a hundred miles from your home. What matters it that you have left the comfort of the familiar and opened yourself to a world that is totally apart from your own.

Many people don’t want to be travelers. They would rather be tourists, flitting over the surface of other people’s lives while never really leaving their own. They try to bring their world with them wherever they go, or try to recreate the world they left. They do not want to risk the security of their own understanding and see how small and limited their experiences really are.

To be a real traveler, you must be willing to give yourself over to the moment and take yourself out of the center of your universe. You must believe totally in the lives of the people and the places where you find yourself.

Become part of the fabric of their everyday lives. Embrace them rather than judge them, and you will find that the beauty in their lives and their world will become part of yours. When you move on you will have grown. You will realize that the possibilities of life in their world are endless, and that beneath our differences of language and culture we all share the same dream of loving and being loved, of having a life with more joy than sorrow.

Travel is not as romantic and exotic as you imagine it. The familiar will always call. Your sense of rootlessness will not give you rest. But how much worse is it to be someone whose dreams have been buried beneath the routines of life and who no longer has an interest in looking beyond the horizon?

If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, or senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’ lift to the horizon; we don’t hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.

Travel, no matter how humble, will etch new elements in your character. You will know the cutting moments of life where fear meets adventure and loneliness meets exhilaration.

Because I have traveled, I can see other universes in the eyes of strangers. I know what parts of me I cannot deny and what parts of me are simply choices that I make. I know the blessings of my own table and the warmth of my own bed. I know how much of life is pure chance, and how great a gift I have been given simply to be who I am.

When I am old, and my body has begun to fail me, my memories will be waiting for me. They will lift me and carry me over mountains and oceans. I will hold them and turn them and watch them catch the sunlight as they come alive once more in my imagination. I will be rich and I will be at peace.

I want you to have that peace, too.

Take the chances a traveler has to take. In the wend you will be so much richer, so much stronger, so much clearer, so much happier, and so much a better person that all the risk and hardship will seem like noting compared to the knowledge and wisdom you have gained.

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Thoughts on Travel

“Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a
distant journey into unknown lands.
Shaking off with one mighty effort
the feathers of Habit, the leaden
weight of Routine, the cloak
of many Cares, man feels once
at more happy. The blood flows
with the fast circulation of childhood.
Afresh dawns the morn of life.”

Richard Burton, 1856

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry And narrow-mindedness.”

Mark Twain

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home…”

Dadobert Runes

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

St. Augustine

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

Henry Miller

“Travel is more than seeing the sights; It is a change, deep and permanent In the ideas of living.”

Miriam Beard