Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hundred Places that will Change your Life?

In the summer of 2016, the National Geographic Magazine published a special edition about “Hundred Places that Will Change Your Lfe.” It describes one hundred  fabulous places in fifty-five  different countries.

As an inveterate traveler, I had to look into this. For one thing, after seventy years of worldwide travel,  - how many of these spots have I  seen?  Regretfully,  I have only been in 32  of the sites listed by  the National Geographic, and only  in 19 of these 55 countries - just about one third.  Oh well, I’ll check out the remainder in my next life.

The National Geographic  divides its list into four categories, each containing 25 places: (1) Mind,  (2) Body, (3) Spirit and (4)Soul:

The first 25 sites  are places where you  may go to enrich yourself mentally and culturally. MIND. To clarify the point, the magazine quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. ,who once said that “A Man’s Mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” Here are some examples of such places:

The Hay Festival in Wales, a veritable “Woodstock of the mind,”with poets, philosophers, etc.
Norway, where you can witness the Aurora Borealis.
Ellis Island, New York, where you can uncover your family history.
Florence, Italy, where you can live and breathe art by  taking  a course.
The Roman Forum in Italy, where you can explore the inner workings of the empire.
Auschwitz, Poland, where you can encounter Holocaust history.
The Blue Ridge Mountains in  North Carolina, where you can go to a writer’s retreat.
Kerala, India, where you can study Ayurvedic healing, a 5,000 year-old form of holistic medicine.

The second section - BODY -  is a selection of places where you can embrace the physical and  experience challenging, exciting peak physical experiences. To make the point, Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted: “The Purpose of Life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear.” Examples:

Antarctica: Ski to the South Pole (if you can afford the 700-mile, two-months-long trip!).
Peru: Hike the Inca trail (in four days) to Machu Pichu.
China’s Great Wall: Hike part of its 4,500 miles.
Iceland: Soak in the blue lagoon’s sulphuric geothermal water.
Dolomites, Italy: Climb the rock walls of these breathtakingly beautiful mountains.
Mount Fuji, Japan: Climb this sacred volcano and watch the sun rise over Tokyo.
Baden-Baden, Germany: Immerse yourself in the mineral-rich springs in the Black Forest.
Missouri to New Mexico: Follow the Santa Fe Trail that carried pioneers west.

The third group  is about SPIRIT: These are sites which evoke magic and the religious experience. It includes  many places of pilgrimage. The British Novelist Eden Phillipotts is quoted: “The universe is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” For example:

Meteora, Greece: Climb to the monasteries on massive sandstone pillars.
Croatia: Marvel at the cascading lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice.
Isla Del Sol, Bolivia: Watch from this island the sun sink beyond Lake Titicaca.
Pitcairn Islands: Encounter a pristine marine preserve where the Bounty mutineers took refuge. 
Teotihuacan, Mexico: Celebrate the spring equinox atop the Pyramid of the Sun.
Spain: Walk the 500-mile Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail.
TaizĂ©, France: Pray at the ecumenical monastery during a week-long international  prayer meeting.
Nile River, Egypt: Cruise from Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings to the Temple of Isis.

The fourth group, finally, is about the SOUL. It is about giving and sharing. As the poet Khalil Gibran said, “You give but  little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” Clearly, the focus here is on saving endangered species and assisting people in need. Included in this list are the following sites:

Tortugero Island, Costa Rica: Help rescue sea turtles on the black-sand beaches of this national park.
Namibia: Volunteer to help save Africa’s endangered cats at the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
San Francisco: Help the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory to track hawks at the Marin Headlands.
Gulf of Maine: Help monitor and feed the Atlantic puffins who nest and survive  on five islands.
Borneo, Indonesia: Help rehabilitate orangutans in their rain forest habitat. 
Thailand: Help care for orphaned and disabled elephants at the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park.
Delhi, India: Live with local families and be a health care volunteer.
Romania: Teach English to underprivileged kids in Transylvania.

            The table below gives you the distribution of these hundred sites by region:

Region and number of sites
North America: 23
Appalachian Trail, Badlands, Big Sur, Death Valley, Ellis Island,  Grand Canyon, Huntsville, Louisville, Mesa Verde, Missouri River, New River Gorge,  Redwoods, New Orleans, Maine Coast, San Francisco, White Mountains, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Alberta, British Columbia.
Europe: 23
Dolomites, Florence, Loire Valley, Lourdes, Roman Forum, Baden-Baden
Latin America: 16
Baja California, Teotihuacan, Patagonia
Asia:  15
Delhi, Kerala, Angkor Wat, Annapurna, Great Wall, Kathmandu, Mount Fuji, Borneo, Jerusalem
Africa: 14
Cape Town, Atlas Mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro, Nile River, Victoria Falls.
Australia + New Zealand: 6
Neptune Islands, Queensland, Victoria.
Islands: 2
Galapagos,  Pitcairn Islands
Wales, Ireland, Scotland: 5
Glasgow, Saint Andrews, Welsh Coast
Scandinavia: 5
Blue Lagoon, Lapland
Eastern Europe: 4
Auschwitz, Croatia, 
Austria, Hungary, Netherlands, Russia,   Switzerland: 0

The list is what it is. There is no reason to criticize. It is obviously arbitrary, but the National Geographic has no  obligation to engage in any sort of international “affirmative action.” The magazine does not claim that these are the “hundred best” or “hundred most beautiful” places. Just hundred places that will change your life. Fine.

Nevertheless, being my usual ornery, I added a bottom row to the table: This box contains countries that are relevant to  me personally because I lived there (Hungary, Netherlands), and/or countries that are exceptionally beautiful (Austria, Switzerland) as well as   hugely diverse (Russia). Their ABSENCE from the  National Geographic’s list is...well, too bad.

Furthermore, let me mention ten sites/events which I  DID experience,  which are not mentioned by the National Geographic, and yet could arguably be included among the world’s most mystically enthralling:

1. Hike through the Haleakala volcano. Start at the top, above 10,000 feet,  and come out two days later in the wilderness at the far end of Maui.
2 Kayak the boundary waters of Minnesota and Ontario, with its quarter million lakes.
3. Run the Big Sur marathon - hugging the Pacific coast from Big Sur to Carmel.
4. Explore the Marakesh Casbah.
5. Drive across Russia, camping  out every night.
6. Visit the prehistoric wall paintings at the Lascaux caves in the French Dordogne area.
7. Hike from monastery to monastery on the Greek  peninsula of Mount Athos, only accessible by small fishing boats and subtropical mountain trails.
8. Hike the Norwegian fjords, glaciers and waterfalls.
9. Walk across the Pont du Gard, the thousand-foot long Roman aqueduct in the South of France.
10. Visit the best preserved ancient Greek temples in Paestum, southern Italy.

I went/did all these things, with my family, with friends, or both.  I cherish these memories more than any other possessions. I’ll tell you about some of these places in future posts.
But let me say, again,  that the National Geographic’s list is fine the way it is.  What would be the point of listing once again the Eiffel Tower, Disneyland or  Las Vegas?

© Tom Kando 2017;All Rights Reserved

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