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My travels began as a child, without even leaving my bed. When I went to sleep at night, I made believe that my bed was a magic caravan drawn by horses. I imagined piles of good books and loads of chocolate bars in the back of the caravan. My fantasy horses led me into deep forests, along golden sand beaches and into fabled towns with magical castles.
Little did I know that someday I would actually spend at least three months of every year traveling around the world. Planes, trains and ships replaced my imaginary horse-drawn caravan.
For 22 years until his death in 1992, my husband Marty was my greatest love and teacher. He had enormous strength of character and inspiring courage. He taught me so much.
Marty loved to sail, scuba dive and travel to remote places. I learned these things, too. We spent our summers in a small cottage on a bay, sailing, swimming and biking. Friends joined us on weekends, and our four kids came often.
Doctors around the world needed Marty’s advice and knowledge. He had invented medical equipment for the heart and when doctors in faraway places needed to change his equipment to fit their needs, Marty and I packed our bags and off we went.
When we were first married, we decided to take a family vacation on a Caribbean Island. Everybody wanted to scuba dive – everybody except me. At first, I held everyone’s towels and sunglasses on the beach while my family disappeared under the waves with air tanks on their backs. When they came up from their dive, they told me the wonders they had seen.
So I swallowed my fear – and about half the ocean, I think, and took the plunge. On my first dive I could hardly believe that the colorful fishes and strangely shaped corals I saw were real. My fascination for the coral reef led to hundreds of scuba dives and inspired many books about the sea and its creatures. You’ll love watching the video of my diving adventures, The Underwater World of Ann McGovern.
On an afternoon dive in Egypt, a huge moray eel came out of its underwater cave and swam straight to me. I held tight to Marty and after a few seconds, the eel swam away. Another diver came down minutes later. We saw him feeding the moray. Later I learned that he fed the eel every day at the same time. No wonder the moray eel confused me with that diver!
Our trips to seven continents were full of adventures. Marty and I camped out in East Africa and saw amazing animals up close in their natural environment. One night lions growled outside our tent. Too close! We saw leopards before breakfast and herds of elephants in family groups. We got up before sunrise to go on our first game run of the day to see the animals. In the mid-afternoon heat, the animals were as sleepy as we were. In the late afternoon we went out again for another game run to see the animals hunting for their next meal. Usually we got back to our camp after dark.
Hot air ballooning in France was fun! We sailed in our balloon basket over castles and towns. The people below us looked tiny. They waved and we waved back.
We rode two-humped Bactrian camels in Mongolia and slept in a Mongolian yurt – a round tent made of silk that could be put up and taken down in minutes. I didn’t like the yak tea we were served but I drank it to be polite. A yak hoof was another thing. No thank you! I tried to eat the local food of various countries. Would you like fried grasshoppers in Mexico? How about snake soup in China? Or grubs in Australia?
I saw thousands of penguins in Antarctica, and on a trip to the North Pole, I saw polar bears. I photographed them from the ship. No way would I be on land with a polar bear. One swipe from its enormous paw would kill me.
In Papua New Guinea, tribesmen painted themselves for battle. Wigmen made their headdresses from real hair. Others decorated their hair with bits of cloth, string or dried flowers.
In Australia, we dove in spooky shipwrecks and spent 10 days scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. We cuddled koalas and we swam with 50-foot gentle whale sharks. They were friendly and curious about us.
In South America, we took a train through the Andes Mountains, sailed Lake Titicaca in a boat made of reeds, and stayed in the highest capital in the world. La Paz, Bolivia, is 14,000 feet above sea level! In Peru, we rode a train to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. During the day, the ruins were crowded with tourists from many countries. We stayed overnight at a little inn and in the morning, we had the ancient ruins all to ourselves. It was magical.
We rode camels in front of Egypt’s pyramids and took a boat down the Nile to see the temples of the ancient Kings.
In Greece, we ate our breakfast on a balcony, facing the Acropolis. We toured the beautiful islands, learned Greek dances and ate squid and octopus.
We rode a dugout canoe through a river in the Malaysian jungle to sleep in a longhouse, sharing our small space with chickens, dogs, pigs, and many families. In Borneo, I traded my bead necklace for the chief’s headdress.
We were among the first American visitors to China. The Chinese were so curious about us. They touched our hair and our clothes. They followed us wherever we went. We traveled north to remote villages where people lived and dressed differently than they did in cities.
We traveled the Silk Road and I walked the hot sands of the Gobi Desert. I had the honor of carrying the Explorer’s Club Flag under the sea, as part of the first American team to dive in China.
Marty’s favorite hobby was photographing rare total solar eclipses, when the moon comes between the earth and the sun. Daylight turns to dusk and the sun looks like a diamond ring in the dark sky. We saw total eclipses in India, Africa, Papua New Guinea, Nova Scotia, Mexico, and Australia. The whole family traveled to Georgia for an eclipse closer to home.
After Marty died, I traveled alone and often to visit my children and grandchildren. Today these visits take me to an island in the Caribbean, to East Timor near Indonesia, to California, Oregon and Maryland. We get together for graduations, weddings and birthday celebrations.
Every year we have a family reunion. Sometimes I rent a house large enough for 13 of us. We filled half a boat on our trip to the Galapagos Islands. I also travel with friends. I went to Yemen with friends when the country was peaceful. We felt as if we had stepped back 100 years in time. My friend Hope and I take art workshops in Spain. My friend Ralph joined our family on a trip to Alaska. Ralph and I went to Mexico where we rafted and paddled down a swift river and I rode horseback to the sea!
Besides school visits in the USA, I’ve been invited to give my presentations to International and American schools in many countries.
I have been to Cambodia and Vietnam where some people live their whole lives on the water and rarely go to shore. I have been to countries where some people have never been to a town or city. I’ve met people who’ve never left their city. I’ve learned that people everywhere are special and that the world we all share is to be protected and cherished for future generations.
Everything that you have – your curiosity, your enthusiasm, your interests, your feelings, all make you a traveler, too, even if you never leave your hometown. Keep your eyes open and keep a journal of special things that happen to you and the fantastic things you see. You’ll find a wonderful world – believe me.