Setting Sail

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Setting Sail

By Allan Seiden


I’m someone who has always wanted to travel, at least since the late ‘40s when my memories of long summers in Maine begin, beautiful days and nights accumulating over the next 15 years. Soon after that first Maine summer I discovered Richard Halliburton’s Wonders of the Orient and Wonders of the Occident. Here in grainy black and white, my third-grade eyes were introduced to places like Machu Picchu and  Carcasonne.

Equally impacting was the 1952 debut of Lowell Thomas’ Cinerama travel documentaries, the encompassing screen giving three dimensions to an armchair view of wondrous places, real enough to induce panic when the sequence was on a roller coaster or motion sickness in an airplane over-flying Iguaçu Falls.

Most memorable was the medieval pageantry of Lhasa, Tibet, revealed as an exotic fantasy of red robes, fanciful curved hats (remarkably similar to the feathered mahiole worn by Hawaiian ali`i), fairy tale architecture, strange music, and snow-capped mountains that I would experience first-hand in 1979, serendipitously offered one of the first dozen visas issued for Tibet to an American.

The Dalai Lama, 1994.

That visit would lead to an interview with the Dalai Lama at the then Kahala Hilton soon after my return. Travel I learned, time after time, came with many rewards.

There were also more prosaic milestones, like my first sighting of a coconut palm, viewed somewhere en route from New York to Florida when I was eleven. Neither the alligators at Gatorland nor the waterskiing

In Florida, 1955, with a newly made friend.

show at Weeki Wachee Springs said as much to me as that first palm tree, the embodiment of all that was tropically exotic.

I never imagined I would live in such a place, considering New York City the center of my universe, but as a result of such life-changing experiences, I would set out to see the world, starting with an August 1963 departure during what was supposed to be the start of my junior year at Penn State. I was on a four-month-long road trip across the U.S. and into Mexico that would draw to a close in a total wreck that beheaded our car, a classic cream-and-red ’55 Chevy. Amazingly I was not hurt. My travel mate, a high school friend, however was badly injured, with a stretch of ribs broken from his impact with the dashboard, this being long before seat belts. It was a sad finale to an eye-opening trip, a finale that coincided with JFK’s assassination as I was told as I was driven from the site of the accident by the police. That day, a month after my 19th birthday, I learned the meaning of vulnerability and the arbitrary justice meted out by fate.  Luckily, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for travel.

On a Virginia mountaintop, 1963.

Since then I’ve been to 111 countries (and counting), some many times, seeing the often-unimaginable changes that time has brought. Each new destination reveals another part of the human mosaic, also confirming the astonishing beauty and diversity of our planet as a place of infinite miracles.  It is this promise of the what’s new and unexpected that makes travel addictive.

While I love traveling with friends and family since shared experience has its own rewards, I have

On the Na Pali Coast, 1974.

never been averse to traveling on my own. I am easily absorbed by new places, my photographer’s eye ever vigilant. The destination is the thing, so traveling alone has never been a lonely experience, each departure an opportunity for renewal,

With my daughter Martine at Petrodvorets, Russia, 2010.

learning and creativity that I hope to share in the stories that will appear in the months ahead. Comments or questions? Contact me at

NEXT     March 18: Springtime in New York

Nature takes top billing in America’s most urban city.

Text pictures © Allan Seiden, 2011