Around the World in 80 Years: A New Travel Diary

Around the World in 80 Years: A New Travel Diary

by Elva Nelson


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Around the World in 80 Years: A New Travel Diary by Elva Nelson

Between 1982 and 2012, I took 95 major trips to foreign and domestic destinations as tour designer and leader. My tours were tailored to include experiences not enjoyed by the average traveler.
Bet you didn't see what we did!
This book is about:
• Traveling off the beaten path to see the beauty and unusual details that others miss
• Cultural and historical facts and trivia that add interest to the traveler's experience
• Humorous events that occurred on our journeys
• The importance of seeing everything there was to see where we went, knowing that we may not be back
• Entertaining episodes, unique people, fresh perspectives, and "close calls" encountered along the way.
• With the daring of "Indiana Jones" and the enthusiasm of "Auntie Mame" you will be tempted to follow your heart and see the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477233382
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 07/06/2012
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)

Read an Excerpt

Around the World in 80 Years

A New Travel Diary
By Elva Nelson


Copyright © 2012 Elva Nelson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-3338-2

Chapter One


Our plane landed in Iquitos, Peru, along the Amazon River. A small town important in the lumber trade, it resembled an early prospecting town in the American West—primitive, with muddy streets. The first horrible sound was from a pig being slaughtered down the street. We were ushered to a boat, much like the one in the movie The African Queen, and motored down the enormously wide Amazon River for hours to a tributary where we transferred to dug-out canoes. The river is used by the natives as a highway, which proved an interesting sight as they traveled past us. We pulled to the shore and had the first view of our lodge. It sat on stilts and had a very high thatched roof. In the rainy season, the waters come right up to the doorway and the piranha fish are actively aggressive.

Our sleeping quarters were small with very short wooden beds covered with mosquito netting. A screen like hardware cloth was stretched across the room at ceiling height beneath the thatch. There was a shower to be shared by other guests, which was a trickle of river water stored in a 5 gallon tub above. The temperature was high, the humidity higher and the water lukewarm. Not such a refreshing shower to us, but even worse to a dignified fellow traveler named Madge Horn, who told us how hard it was to take off her girdle and put it back on in that shower stall. She was one of the most respected members of Texas Garden Clubs. She had jet black hair and rode her horse every day on her ranch in Del Rio, Texas. She always said that we looked like a herd of cattle waiting at the barn door before our meals at state conventions. At night we heard strange noises but could not see anything when peeking out from under the mosquito netting. It was only after we were on our flight home that I was told that the screening was to prevent the snakes in the thatch from falling on to us while we slept. It was better that we did not know or see them when we were there. The colorful Macaws and other large birds in the lodge were also a form of snake control.

Potatoes are native to Peru. They have hundreds of varieties in every color: purple, black, yellow, red, and we had them at each meal, along with strange, nameless meats. We suspected that the chicken they said we were eating may have been snake or another exotic. Our ventures into the jungle were often on wooden boards to avoid quicksand, in which you slowly sink into oblivion—just like in the movies. Blooming amaryllis plants, growing wild, greeted us in the jungle. No need to buy the bulbs, watch them slowly grow and finally bloom into a magnificent lily-like flower; nature does that work in the Peruvian jungle. Then there were the ant trees, trees that house ants that will eat the flesh off your body if you are tied to them by the natives which were a punishment for infidelity in the native culture! An anaconda resided in the lake that we rowed on one day in a dug-out canoe. We could not find him, but our guide sold me her triangular paddle as a remembrance. Years later, when the movie Anaconda came out, it brought back memories of our trip; the Indians rowed out of the mist with paddles just like mine.

The visit to a small native village, with tiny residents, was like a mutual inspection experience. The Indians, very short in stature, sparsely dressed, like the pictures in National Geographic, offered many items that they had made, including a working blowgun that I still have on the wall in my back hall. The men asked for cigarettes—no luck because none of us smoked. The children were curious but stayed close to their mothers.

Leaving the lodge, by the same route that we had arrived, left us hot, sticky and not quite acceptable to attend the grand reception party held for us when the Texas Flower Show judges arrived in Lima. The United States Consulate building had been bombed the week before our trip, probably by rebels connected to an opposition party.

The building happened to be a few blocks from our hotel in Lima. Naturally, I had to see it for myself, and it was worth the walk. Most of the damage was at the front entrance where glass and debris were still scattered. There was an interesting building across the boulevard from our hotel that we learned was the jail. People were coming and going at all hours. Apparently, prisoners were not fed in jail so their families were allowed to bring them food. There was a beautiful park between our hotel and the site of the flower show. In the evening the grass seemed to come alive with movement from all the lovemaking going on there by the city's youth.

It was finally time to begin work on the purpose of our trip, the flower show. It was exceptionally large and well-attended, with experienced and discerning judges. Panels of three judged together. I judged the miniature class with the famous floral instructor, Bob Thomas. He was huge and his hands were larger than any of the designs. This was a challenge for him since his own style was large, free-flowing designs of tropical plants with driftwood and unique containers.

The Spanish influence was apparent in the architecture of this busy, bustling city. We did have time to visit numerous museums, shops, bazaars, and a special festival. Being from Texas, I had on cowboy boots, which seemed to attract attention and envy. A little local family thought it was not wise for us to be in the middle of the crowds, especially my long-haired blonde daughter, Gail, and shepherded us to a major hotel. Kidnapping was not unusual in South America, especially of blonde-haired children.

Lima, has little to no rain. A modern city with pockets of poverty and innovation, old cars in need of repair were commonly seen. There was no need to have a hydraulic lift to repair them. A hole is dug, the car driven over it, and the work done by a mechanic in the hole underneath the vehicle. Lima is high above the seashore but has lovely resorts on the beach below. There we were treated to a delicious dinner by a flower show host, before visiting her home. Their house was uniquely built with native lumber inside and out and purple, yellow, and other colored wood in many patterns. They owned a lumber mill in Iquitos (we've been there, remember?) and harvested trees from the jungle. Coincidentally, they had a German shepherd dog named Kaiser, a near match for our Kaiser at home. Also, they had a three-dimensional picture on the wall exactly like one my mother had in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Small world.

A side trip to view the Lines of Nazca was offered, which I did not take but Gail did. They were at the camp of Maria Reiche, who had studied the lines for years and was still active and enthusiastic. As they flew over the vast area, Gail said she felt like a mosquito with her fearless pilot. I was happy to have gone instead to a fabric mill where I purchased a fabulously beautiful handmade, white alpaca coat and scarf.

After the flower show was over, we continued on our adventure, this time to the Andes. We flew into Cuzco, which was the capital of the Inca Empire, at an altitude of 11,200 feet. We walked from the plane like zombies. Immediately we were given a drink of coco (cocaine) tea and told to go to bed. The headache from the altitude was excruciating until our bodies adapted. It felt a lot like motion sickness for me. The Spanish buildings in Cuzco were built on the foundation of structures that remain from the original Incas. Those foundations were made of huge rocks, carefully shaped and held together without mortar or other bonding materials.

The following day, we boarded a narrow gauge railroad train, and switched back and forth, ascending the mountain on our way to Machu Picchu. It was very cold but interesting; we were serenaded by passengers playing their native flutes. Children with their bare feet and runny noses begged for candy through our open windows at the many stops. On the return trip, the children were waiting on the other side of the tracks for us at the "candy" windows. This was the same train that the infamous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid allegedly robbed. Today, bandits still relieve tourists of their cameras and valuables. Looking down from the train, the river below looked like foaming hot chocolate and the snow-covered mountains in the distance were majestic. Our bus trip to the valley was wild and fast with a fearless native driver at the wheel. Then we began the climb to our destination, which according to the native Incas is comparable to Shangri-La. The unlimited vistas, the ancient ruins, the friendly llamas, and the peaceful atmosphere enticed us to stay forever. That was not to be; we had to return to Lima, and from there to Houston.

Our flight from Cusco back to Lima was made more lively by the chicken on the lap of the Peruvian woman sitting next to most impeccably dressed man in our traveling group. This gentleman was rewarded for his patience by getting to sit next to Miss Peru on the later flight home. Security inspection was not as extreme as now, but I was stopped, and the blowgun that I had bought at the village in the jungle was put away by the flight attendant for safe keeping. It w as returned to me upon landing, and is now placed for protection in our back hall.

When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make it's own people comfortable. —Clifton Fadiman


Hotels were being built, and the newest vacation spot was calling. The year was 1977. In the kitchen, our daughters, Pam and Gail, were planning a week-long visit to Cancun, on the Yucatan Peninsula. From their discussion, it sounded like a winner. When they asked, "Mom why don't you come too? We always have such fun when you are along," it didn't take me a minute to say, "yes."

The beauty of the crystal-clear, turquoise water took our breath away, and before we had even unpacked we were in it. We decided to go into town the first day for a lobster dinner, via the local bus. The trees along the street were trimmed low because the Mayan inhabitants are very short.

A small native market selling souvenirs backed up to the jungle. Hanging shawls separated the vendors. We were each drawn to separate alcoves, and finally I was lost. We had wandered along looking at an array of native wares, thinking we were together. The jungle foliage blocked our view of the outside. I rushed back to the bus stop on a wide boulevard. No familiar faces! I ran back to the bazaar. It felt like someone had kidnapped my babies. Suddenly Pam was standing next to me, offering an orange drink. These are fatal to me under stress. The girls did not want to go back to the hotel, so they put me back on the open air bus, where I really got sick. I was glad to have the open window so I could throw up all the way back. The locals must have thought the white lady had a big problem, and I did. With icepacks and a comfortable bed, I was normal again by the time that the girls returned, fully satisfied by their lobster dinner. They didn't want to hear my tale of woe and just said, "Go to sleep, Mom."

One day we took a tour on a bus to Tulum on which most of the seats were taken. A local man sat next to me. As we drove along a marshy area with exposed roots everywhere, I commented that there must be many snakes living there. My little seat companion explained in English that there were many snakes and that that was where the town's name came from. It turned out that he was a tour guide on his day off, and he ended up as my personal guide. He showed us where to swim in the brackish water sand told us all about the birds, the wildlife and the builders of Tulum. It is said that they were cross-eyed and built the temples off-kilter.

The Isle of Mujeres sounded inviting. We waited for hours with the native population on the dock for a local ferry. A young boy put his pet kinkachu (small mammal related to the raccoon with a prehensile tail) into Pam's arms after we boarded, and she held it all the way to the island. The beach was beautiful and we were served typical food: fish fruits and a salsa, which had been made along the way. A handsome young man invited me to go on a speedboat ride with him. Pam came up and indignantly said, "She is my mother. Bug off!"

On our trip in a glass bottom boat, with glass that was 12 inches by 12 inches, we were able to see a glorious array of colored fish. We were invited to feed them underwater so I told the girls to jump in. It looked like the water was about four feet deep. But when Gail came up sputtering, she said she had gone down over 16 feet!

The major part of the week was spent swimming and sunbathing—after all, that is what the warm blue waters of the Caribbean lure us to. Perfectly relaxing, until one afternoon a young boy called out, "shark!" We cleared the beach and saw a very large cigar-shaped barracuda, not a welcome swimming companion.

Gail learned that the Caribbean sun can have devastating effects on our bodies, getting a touch of sunstroke—a first and last experience for her. But we all came home with beautiful tan bodies. Pam discovered that neither the water nor ice was safe to drink. She carried her pink bottle of Pepto Bismol for the rest of the trip and all the way home. The Cancun experience certainly had its ups and downs! In the end, we had fun together and many laughs. On that journey we discovered that we had graduated from parent/child to friends.

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow." —Lin Yutang


As President of the Houston Federation of Garden Clubs from 1979 to 1981, I chose as my main project to build a greenhouse for the Ronald McDonald House, then under construction. The main fund raiser was to be called a Tree Spree. Every club fully decorated a Christmas tree and brought it to the Saks Fifth Avenue Center where a large reception was held, and the trees were offered for sale. In my official capacity, I wrote to each of the 28 foreign consulates in Houston requesting their donation of a tree. Many of them responded with either a tree or a monetary gift. Weeks later, I received a call from the South African Consul of Education, Natie de Swardt, apologizing for his neglect in replying. He extended an invitation to my husband and me to dine at their home. A deep friendship grew because of our many common interests.

When we decided to join a garden club trip to the Republic of South Africa, they loaned me the high school history books from the Consulate library and offered a list of background reading about the Dutch (Voortrekkers), the English, and native tribes. One of the most important books, The Washing of the Spears, Story of the Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation, by Donald Morris is highly regarded in South Africa. We met Donald at many social events at the consulate. I did my homework and was happy to have some background information before our visit. Natie and Rina were transferred back to South Africa before our tour departed. When we arrived, dear, sweet Natie was at the Johannesburg airport to meet and greet us before we embarked on the bus tour exploring the country. (Years later we would see them again when we visited Stockholm Sweden, where he was South African Ambassador to Sweden.)

Our first stop, Transvaal, is the vast Northern territory that includes the famous game refuge Krueger Park. I vividly remember seeing a giant king protea growing on a small bush there. Later we saw pin cushion and other varieties of proteas in the Cape Province to the South on huge shrubs.

We were housed in individual rondavels with thatch roofs braced by dark timbers that looked like a giant spider web on the ceilings. Our compound was surrounded by fences to keep the elephants out. We could hear them as they tried to push against the barriers to visit us at night. In the morning we were greeted by dancing springbok antelope in the meadow outside our door. Driving through the bush, we sighted kudu, impala, wildebeests, wart hogs (all in a row with their tails straight up) and were amazed at the height and beauty of the giraffe. Lions were not to be found, but a leopard came into our camp at night and placed its kill, a springbok, high in a tree over our dining area. That rather troubled the natives working there because it was far too close for comfort and meant that it would return. After a fruitless night safari looking for Rhino, we only saw the stump where they sharpen their horns and a gate latch that they were able to open at will. The next morning two of the mammoth beasts were looking into our window. Surprised satisfaction, seeing them so close!

As we continued South to Swaziland, we were stopped at the border. Each of us had to sit on the pavement, open our suitcase and be searched for firearms. The King of Swaziland had just died and there was fear of the government being overthrown by communists from nearby Lesotho. The natives were in mourning, wearing native dress and each carrying a spear that meant business. Our camp was comfortable and the huts interesting. The floors were shiny black, made from cow dung, dried and polished to look almost like patent leather. This was to prevent evil spirits underground from rising up and hurting people or taking the person living there away.


Excerpted from Around the World in 80 Years by Elva Nelson Copyright © 2012 by Elva Nelson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


South Africa....................9
El Dorado....................36
El Dorado #2....................38
Philadelphia Flower Show....................43
Philadelphia Extra!....................46
New England....................47
Costa Rica....................54
The Pacific Northwest....................62
New Zealand....................68
Chelsea Flower Show....................73
Scotland, England, Wales....................81
Inland Waterway....................89
Barging In France....................100
Northern Capitols Of Europe....................106
The Sea Cloud....................110
Old World Europe....................114
South China Sea....................118
Paris With Elsa....................125
Spain And Portugal....................129
Greece And Her Islands....................133
Houston Highways....................139
South America....................141
Scotland And England, 1999....................145
On The Crystal With Elsa....................148
Black Sea....................151
South Of France....................154
Venice To Barcelona With Nelson....................160
Loire Valley....................163
The Big Trip For Life....................166
Crossing Canada....................168
Hudson Valley....................171
Final Note....................177

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