Thursday, July 10, 2014





The world?s wonders most of us will never see


August 25. 2013 9:46AM
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I suppose 43 is a bit young to write off Angkor Wat. After all, I have a few good years ahead of me, so whoís to say I wonít end up there in time? Still, I canít help but be a bit doubtful. Last week I had to check the bank balance before driving to Ottawa; Cambodia may be a touch out of reach.I canít claim to have given much consideration to Angkor Wat until just recently. Truth told, I canít claim to have known what Angkor Wat was until the most recent edition of Smithsonian magazine showed up in my mailbox. It was about then I started thinking about how nice it would be to see a place like Angkor Wat and just exactly how unlikely making that trip would be.Itís fair to say the folks at Smithsonian are more than a little to blame for this most recent bout of travel malaise Iím experiencing.Still, itís hard to stay mad at such a wonderful magazine. Beautiful photography and great writing that manages to balance on that slight line between patronizing and wonkish. Every month it seems they introduce me to some fascinating bit of history or geography or art that I then get to walk around dropping into conversation as though IĎve always known exactly how many rhesus monkeys live in Cayo Santiago (861) or the length of the Yangtze (4,000 miles).Next to birthday cards and tax returns, itís the best thing you can find in your mailbox.The cover story for the January issue was one of those well-written, beautifully photographed pieces, a laundry list of the 28 places to see before you die. The list ranged from the majestic stillness of Antarctica to the roar of Brazilís Iguazu Falls.To the last, each description left me aching for the chance to see firsthand what the writers so cruelly described. The giant heads of Easter Island, the teeming life of the Serengeti. To look at the pictures is to wonder at the grandeur of the world. I want to climb the steps of Machu Picchu, wander the halls of the Uffizi Galler or just sit quietly by the zen gardens of Kyoto. There are 28 items on the list and, unless you count flying over the Grand Canyon on the way to Las Vegas, I have seen none of them.Itís enough to make a man question just how well heís lived this life. I mean, can you really consider a life complete if one has never been to Angkor Wat?The answer, of course, is yes.I envy folks who get to see the great wonders of this Earth, I really do. And if the opportunity were ever to present itself that I could pray in Pagan or raft the Amazon, I would no doubt be happier for the experience. But there are some pretty good reasons Iíve never been to Antarctica or Kilimanjaro, and theyíre not all financial.For one, the majority of the locales on the Smithsonian list appear to be situated in the middle of nature. I am not huge on nature. I like a nice view as much as the next guy, but I like it better from the patio of a good hotel, preferably something with room service and a decent bar in the lobby.It also appears that some of these places may not be readily accessible by taxi. Iím told that to genuinely experience the grandeur of a place like Tikal or Mese Verde you have to get out and walk around. I have no desire to fly halfway around the world so I can walk. If I want to walk Iíll Ö well, actually, I just plain donít want to walk.Given all that, I suppose it would be easy to give up on visiting the worldís wonders. Instead, IĎve decided to rewrite the list. Itís nice that the folks at Smithsonian can make it to see the Taj Mahal, and Iím sure itís beautiful, but until theyíve seen the giant chicken on the road to Montezuma, Iím not sure they can safely count it out as a wonder of its own.The Aurora Borealis may be stunning to see, but Iím not convinced it would hold up to the awe of a wild game dinner at the Cairo Gun Club. And while wildebeest stampedes on the Serengeti may be thrilling to behold, I would challenge these magazine folks to witness the scene when they ring that bell announcing new desserts at the Golden Coral buffet. Now thatís a stampede.Iíll be putting together my own list of 28 places you need to see before you die and sending it to the nice people at the Smithsonian. In the meantime, I think Iíll make a trip out to see the big chicken. I just have to check the bank balance first.





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