TCC Member Spotlight: Robert Ihsen, Covina, California, USA

I have loved to travel since I was a child in the late 1930s and ‘40s when my parents would take me on camping trips to the National Parks in the West. I was never the kid who said “Aren’t we there yet?” I always want- ed to keep going and see what was around the next curve or over the next hill. My love of travel was also influenced by the National Geographic magazine (my family has had a subscription since 1913 — 106 years); by ad- venture travel writers such as Richard Halliburton (who crossed the Alps on an elephant and swam the Panama Canal), and by stamp collecting. I was around 9 years old when I got my first stamps from places like Azerbaijan and Zululand and immediately wanted to go there. What a great way to learn geography and history!

My first big overseas trip was in 1960 when I leased a car for three months and drove about 10,000 miles around Europe. I picked up the car in London and had the immediate pleasure on driving on the wrong side of the road through London traffic. A trip highlight was visiting the original cave of Lascaux with its Cro-Magnon paintings. It was closed to tourists the next year and a replica built near it.

Soon after my return I began teaching AP American and European history at Covina High School, the same school I had graduated from in 1950. I taught there for over 35 years, retiring in 1998. Almost every summer I would travel to different places around the world or in the United States. The countries began to add up, as did units in the National Park system. When I was a student in high school I decided I wanted to visit every country in the world.That seemed not too difficult in the late 1940s, but as I kept traveling the countries kept increasing. There are about a hundred more now. I heard about the TCC in the 1970s, joined in 1998, and became acquainted with that notorious “LIST.” I recently broke 300 (Abkhazia) and now am at 302. Of the 193 UN members I have been to 192, miss- ing only Libya. I’ve been trying to get there for the last seven years. Of the 427 units in the National Park system, I have been to about 400.

On my travels I have met amazing and friendly people and noted the less mate- rial goods people have the more generous and friendly they seem to be. I have visited remarkable sites almost everywhere in the world. Here are some of highlights, and lowlights, of my travels:

In 1978 I rode through the Khyber Pass from Peshawar to Kabul, then visited the great cliff carvings of the Buddha at Bamian, since destroyed by the Taliban. On the same tour someone threw a hand grenade through the front door of our hotel in Shiraz, Iran, which made our tour even more interesting. The Shah was overthrown the next year. In 2009 I visited two other sites later destroyed or damaged by Isis — Nimrud in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.

While observing a mountain gorilla family at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the alpha silverback male rolled over on his stomach ten feet from us, put his hands on his chin and stared as we stared back, as though we both were trying to communicate across eons of evolutionary history. In Chobe National Park I saw two lions attack an elephant by leaping on his back. And at the Tanjung Putting Orangutan Research Station in Kalimantan a tame orangutan grabbed my hand and led me on a tour around the complex.

In 2002 I spent two weeks camping in the southern Sahara from Tamanrasset, Algeria, to Agadir, Niger, sleeping among towering dunes and convoluted rock formations, ob- serving ancient rock art and visiting the hid- den oasis of Timia where we were treated to camel races and traditional dances and music. In Tibet I met the mummified body of the Pachen Lama who was sitting in an elevated chair in a smoky lamasery filled with hundreds of burning yak butter candles and his chanting disciples.

I have attended many tribal festivals and ceremonies, including the Mongu festival in Nagaland; the initiation of young men into the Crocodile tribe on the Sepik River and the amazing Mt. Hagen Sing Sing in New Guinea; the stilt dancers of the Dogan in Mali; Sufi dervishes in Omdurman; the Wodaabe dancers in Niger where the men dress as women; the Lamaluru festival in Ladakh; a Hindu coming of age ceremony in Assam; an ANZAC Day celebration on Norfolk Island, and many more.

I have retraced the key battles of World War II in the Pacific: Corregidor, Wake, Midway, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Tinian. Of the many other islands I have visited I would include as fa- vorites Lord Howe, Pitcairn, Easter, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia (where we were caught in a near hurricane), St Helena, and Tanna in Vanuatu where Mt. Yasgar has been erupting continuously for 800 years.

At the Loko pigmy village in the Central African Republic the Chief used his cell phone to call his tribal members out of the rain forest. Burton, Speke, and Stanley would have been flabbergasted. I have eaten at the Harley-Davidson (!) Bar and Catina in Kharbarovsk (the best Mexican restaurant in Siberia), passed Startabucks Coffee in Yemen, MacDowells Burgers in Grozny, and been to Hell in Norway—for years my students kept telling me to go there.

In the rain forest in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park I was sitting on a platform about 200 feet up on a giant tree enjoying the view over the canopy when a troop of angry spider monkeys came swinging by.They didn’t want our group up there. It suddenly started to rain, but there were no clouds in the sky. I soon realized a monkey was right above me expressing his displeasure in a very personal way. So I may be the only TCC member who has been urinated on by a spider monkey in the rain forest!

I have been in the rainiest place in the world (real rain, not the monkey kind) Mawlynwong village in Meghalaya State in India where over 800 inches has fallen in a three-month monsoon season. It was sunny when I was there. I have ridden down and up the “world’s most dangerous road” between La Paz and Coroico with a 10,000-foot elevation change, traveled the Karakorum Highway through Hunza to Kashgar, hiked the Milford Track in New Zealand, and visited those “lost” cities I dreamed about more than seventy years ago: Petra, Timbuktu, Babylon, Meroe, Machu Picchu, Tikal, Persepolis, and many others. I have made friends from differ- ent cultures around the world. It has been a great adventure and I have many more places to visit on this amazing, exciting, never boring planet. I still want to see what is around the next curve and over the next hill.

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