Personal security

International travel is riskier than sitting in your pajamas in the living room with the curtains closed. Of course, if you are eating an entire bowl of cheese dip with a spoon while watching Netflix . . . well, never mind. Deep down, you want to go outside and play. Maybe even visit the lands of the Bible. But you are afraid. So let me help. Wipe the dip from your chin and read on.

Lost in l'espace

When the baggage carousel stopped, I thought: Welcome back to “Exploring Bible Lands.”

The reason the carousel had stopped, of course, is because there were no more bags to spit out. All the bleary-eyed travelers had yanked and been yanked by that cruel machine empowered to deliver the final punctuation to the experience of air travel. One middle-aged woman (with a bag twice her size) was determined to pound her experience into an exclamation point. She was dragged no less than three times around the loop before she finally arrested the oversized beast. The crowd went from a collective gasp to a cheer as she rose unsteadily to her feet, one fist on the handle, the other, in the sky. She was the unseated rodeo rider who survived a runaway.

Cowboy Town

I stand on the terraced roof of our hotel and scan the horizon. Doğubeyazıt (Daroynk to Armenians) reminds me of the Great American West. Could this be Wyoming? Perhaps. It is a cowboy town, a trucker town, a mountain town, a border town. It is gritty in appearance and demanding of all who pass.

Between Van and Iran

On the eastern end of Turkey rests Lake Van, the largest lake in the country. It has many claims to fame: a deep history, a saline character, and even a “Loch Ness” style monster rumored to haunt its depths. Of these, it is the first that brings us here (although the third is certainly interesting!). In the first millennium BC, a kingdom remembered as Urartu was centered in the region. In fact, the capital of the kingdom was erected on a rocky knob rising above the water’s edge. A scramble over these ruins is is goal for another day, as is additional attention to the mysterious Urartians.

Fire and Ice

When leaving the city of Van, we were surprised to discover whole streets lined by abandoned buildings. Some had been apartments; others, businesses and factories. Exterior walls of concrete block were awkwardly peeled away, as if by some ridiculous force. With these partitions missing, we were able to peer from our passing vehicle, like voyeurs, into the private lives of people we would never know. Their wires and pipes and curtains danced nakedly in the wind. Only later would we locate the missing inhabitants; new homes were assigned them, homes of thin trailer steel, the kind arranged in tight rows and given by agencies that specialize in humanitarian disasters.

An Israel - Palestine Sampler

No two trips are the same. If this statement is true when traveling internationally, it is a steely reality of travel in Israel-Palestine. Embracing this truth can be scary. However, if attempted, it can free the curious explorer from the tyranny of the timetable. What is more, it suggests another, perhaps wiser, tack: stop dictating and begin engaging a culture other than your own.