My name is Tom Barrett. I was born Oct 23, 1948 and fell deeply in love with the idea of travel as a very young boy, growing up in West Orange, New Jersey. We had a Norwegian boarder who subscribed to the National Geographic and he would let me read his magazines whenever I wanted to. I was fascinated by the pictures and the stories and day dreamed endlessly about someday travelling to those exotic places and meeting those extraordinary people. It seemed so much more interesting and exciting than the life I was living. I vividly remember having a globe with brightly coloured countries that I would gaze at for long periods of time, turning it around and around and trying to memorize the capitals of all the nations and imagining what it would be like to travel to them. I was a very small boy and it was a very big world that called to me, and still does. I particularly remember my fascination with the massive Belgian Congo, which is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was a shining green shape on my globe in the center of Africa that fascinated me like no other country. My wild and unpredictable five-week journey across the Congo by land and boat in 1982 more than lived up to my childhood expectations.
I come from a poor, working class family of non-travellers. Neither of my parents ever owned or drove a car, so we didn’t get around much. Occasionally we would take a bus to Asbury Park on the Jersey shore for a week of riding the waves and miniature golf. Or my mother would take my sister Joan and I on a train to the farm in western Pennsylvania where she grew up and her brothers still lived. My father used to talk sometimes about how we should pull up stakes and move to California, which thrilled me until I realized it was totally empty talk. We weren’t going anywhere and never did. I soon realized that if there was going to be any moving or travelling I would have to do it on my own, which I have for nearly fifty years.
So what is this blog about? It’s mainly a collection of stories about the fulfillment of my childhood dreams of journeying through exotic lands, having physically challenging adventures there, interacting with the local people, appreciating their culture and just having fun. There will be trekking stories from Uganda, Bhutan, India, Peru, Malawi, Italy and especially Nepal, hitchhiking tales from North America, West Africa and Europe, posts about bicycle touring in Ireland, England, Wales, Canada and the United States, plus journalistic trips to Libya, Belfast, Montana and other places. I don’t go on cruises (unless you count riding the ragged old barge up the Congo River as a cruise), package tours, visit Disneyland or Disney World, or go to Las Vegas. I don’t look down on that kind of travel. I’m just not interested in it.
Instead, I write about things like attending a rollicking, holy roller Pentecostal church service in the heart of the Congo, hop-scotching across the Sahara Desert on the back of trucks in 1972, my then wife and I pulling our three young children out of school for nearly three months to go backpacking in east and central Africa in 1998, then doing it again two years later, this time in Nepal and Thailand, plus a nightmarish day picking many repulsive leeches off my body while trekking during the monsoon in Nepal, being shaken down by a bribe-hungry Ugandan official at Entebbe Airport, climbing the very lively and lethal volcano, Nyiragongo, sharing a traditional meal with a Bedouin chieftain in his luxurious tent, and much, much more.
Finally, I must mention the shortest, simplest and most important trip I took. I boarded a bus in New York City to Toronto on February 23, 1968, and began a new life in Canada. Far from feeling lost and alone in a new country, I felt like I was coming home for the first time and it has felt like my home ever since. It was the best decision I ever made.