Answer Man

Where in the world was the Answer Man?

Relaxing in front of a row of moai, monolithic stone human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island between 1250 and 1500. These statues, sitting on a platform called an ahu, were restored by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino in the 1990s.
Relaxing in front of a row of moai, monolithic stone human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island between 1250 and 1500. These statues, sitting on a platform called an ahu, were restored by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino in the 1990s. rschlueter@bnd.com

It was a bucket-list trip on steroids.

A once-in-a-lifetime, pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming, phantasmagorical journey.

While some of my fans were going through Answer Man withdrawal pains this past month, I was being pampered on an around-the-world adventure by private jet, where a chef wearing his toque blanche would walk through the plane to see how we liked his Sticky Glazed Bourbon Chicken and Braised Beef Cheeks with Yorkshire Puds.

Twenty-three days. Nine countries. Thirty-two thousand miles producing a seemingly equal number of unforgettable memories.

Here are a few of the most memorable:

▪ Being coaxed onto a camel in Petra, Jordan, to have my picture taken in front of the iconic Treasury (actually more like an ancient funeral home) that everyone who has ever seen “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” would recognize in a heartbeat.

▪ Racing over the red desert sands of Wadi Rum, Jordan, where Lawrence of Arabia once helped lead the Arab Revolt of 1916 — and where Matt Damon struggled to survive an alien planet in “The Martian.”

▪ Watching a lion mosey nonchalantly down a Tanzanian road toward our Toyota 4x4 before finally veering off and passing so close that he could have swiped a paw through a window had he wanted to. And that was just one highlight during a game drive filled with cheetahs munching on gazelles, huge herds of zebras and giraffes racing across the Serengeti Plain, trees filled with buzzards looking for leftovers, a river stuffed with napping hippos, a leopard draped lazily across a tree branch and hyenas, warthogs, elephants, wildebeests, topi and cute little dik-diks (also known as big-cat snacks), oh, my! It was like going to the zoo in reverse, where we tourists had to be safely locked in our motorized cages.

▪ Being awestruck by the magnificent splendor of the Taj Mahal. Then, hours later, touring a village of untouchables, the bottom rung of the Hindu caste system, where 4,000 people, we were told, have just 200 toilets — and many still prefer walking to the fields.

▪ Petting baby kangaroos and wallabies at the Wildlife Habitat Sanctuary in Port Douglas, Australia, where many of the birds and animals (not the snakes and crocodiles, fortunately) are allowed to run free and interact with visitors. That followed a hike through the Daintree Rain Forest, led by its only female Aboriginal guide with a wonderfully dry sense of humor. We also visited the Botanical Ark, where American Alan Carle moved 30 years ago to turn what was essentially treeless pastureland into a garden paradise with thousands of plant species from dozens of countries. (If you ever go there, make sure you ask Carle to try his wife’s breadfruit fries and guarana cheesecake. They are to die for.)

▪ Enjoying feasting and dancing on the grounds of the Thommanon Temple in the Angkor complex in Cambodia. It’s usually dark and deserted at night, but just for us they set up a portable banquet facility along with electrical generators to bathe the 1,000-year-old temple in colored lights.

▪ Who could possibly forget having our bus met by Samoan natives running with torches to greet us and lead our bus the final few hundred yards to a unique hotel where the staff spent part of their day watering the plots of grass — on the roofs of our suites.

▪ A tour of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Samoan home after being welcomed with a kava ceremony. Being spellbound by the magnificent stone-face moai megaliths on Easter Island. Enjoying spiced tea in a Bedouin tent, where a cute orange tabby adopted me as its dad for 15 minutes. Being waited on hand and foot at hotels I normally wouldn’t dream of staying at. (In Cambodia, for example, we stayed at La Mamounia, where Michelle Obama had stayed in June.) And on and on and on it went for three and a half weeks. It’s the type of trip I wish everyone could take just for the chance to meet people from other cultures and come together.

A case in point: It took quite a bit of coaxing to get me up on that camel in Petra, for which the vendor was charging $5 or 3 dinars. Afterward I was so appreciative for his help and so thoroughly enjoyed the experience that I gave him a 5-dinar bill, thanked him and walked off. A few minutes later, one of our tour-group leaders tapped me on the shoulder and said the vendor wanted to apologize for not giving me my change. I assured him I meant it as a tip, and everyone walked away happy, hopefully with positive thoughts of having encountered both honest and generous people.

Now it’s back to reality, including the final 14 days of those nauseous political ads (missing which was almost worth the price of the trip). So on Friday it will be back to our regularly scheduled columns.

Today’s trivia

How many gallons of fuel does it take to fly a Boeing 757 around the world?

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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