Star Date: August 2018
Adventure In My Blood
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"Not All Who Wander are Lost!”
Adventure runs in my blood! There is a stirring, a passion inside that spurs people onward, makes them overcome obstacles; obstacles that seem overwhelming and almost paralyze others. What makes a person want to explore the globe rather than spending most of their life within a close radius of their birth place? What makes some people embrace change? What causes someone to leave the security of a known existence in search of the unknown? Is this inherent with these 'different' individuals called adventurers?
After spending the last 2 months with my 84 year old Mom, LaVerne, visiting us in Thailand and Hawaii, some of these questions have been answered. It has become obvious that the quest for adventure runs in my blood, in fact almost a genetic trait. Where will the next adventurer immerge, swinging from the family tree? A select few wild spirits in each generation have had the nerve to follow their dreams and explore beyond the confines of their world. Often against the wishes of those around them, these intrepid nomads follow their internal stirrings, almost as if there is no other way to quench the thirst.
My maternal great, great Grandfather and Grandmother, Ole and Bertha Olsen built a fishing boat to cross the wild North Atlantic Ocean from Norway, in search of a better life. Dying at 101 one could say that Bertha had found such a life. Their dreams were nearly dashed as storms raged on the open seas almost capsizing the daring little boat and it's courageous passengers. As the waves mounted, Ole tied his brave young wife and their year old daughter, Minnie, to the mast, preventing them from being washed overboard and vanishing. One unfortunate crew member was caught by a wave and washed away, never to be seen again! Ole, a seasoned fisherman and sailor rode out the storm and they landed on the east coast of America. America, the land where freedom was a reality and dreams came true.
Minnie married Asa Butterfield and they settled in the remote northern areas of Wisconsin, first a homestead in Morse, population 12, and later moved into the big city of Mellen, population 800. Years later Minnie told my Mother about friends of her Mother, or ‘cousins’ as my Grandmother called them, Osa and Martin Johnson who traveled and photographed remote corners of Africa, Borneo, even visiting cannibals on distant South Pacific Islands. You have to be tough to be a intrepid traveler, so tough that even the cannibals aren’t interested in a bite!
During the 27 years they were married, Osa and Martin traveled around the world, in unheard of adventures between 1917 & 1937, photographing wild animals and native peoples in the South Sea islands, Borneo, and Africa.
Osa gave a copy of her book to my great-grandmother Minnie who later gave it, one of her most cherished possessions, to her granddaughter, Laverne, my Mom. I remember as a kid opening the pages of the fat zebra skin covered book and reading in awe! It was one of my favorites, along with the ever present National Geographics. No 'Teen Magazines' for me! I was bio located from my little Midwestern town on Lake Superior, to the far reaching corners of the globe!
Everyone in Osa’s family was against the marriage and the naysayers predicted doom on their dangerous trips. That didn't stop Osa from sharing in Martin's dream. Soon, together, they were making history. Hardships were looked on as challenges. There was no turning back.
Rumi says, "When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from those who have never left home." I was born curious. I always felt "different" and knew deep down to my soul that there was something out there waiting to be discovered. Maybe the 'naysayers' lack of a positive outlook on such ideas spurs explorers on. What's out beyond those city limits? Just how dangerous is it? There is a legend in Hawaii about the little black crabs that inhabit the shorelines of the ocean. When collected in a bucket the little crabs try climbing out. It is the crabs that are closest to them that pull them back into the pot. Safety and security to one person means dread to others. "Be like us. Stay here. Don’t go, it’s dangerous. It’s a jungle out there. You will be robbed or killed by ‘those’ strangers, who think differently, talk differently and look differently. You will contract deadly diseases and never be the same. You will never make it back home. Beware!"
Passion. You cannot take part in a daring adventure or be a nomad and return home the same. You WILL never be the same. Gone is much of your prejudice, ignorance and fear. Something is awakened inside you. A connection to the wider Universe is opened up and it becomes your strength, your sense of wonderment, your only constant in an ever changing lifestyle. A spark is ignited and the flames burn bright, spurring you on down the road, seeking to uncover hidden truths and treasures along the way.
Each time you return home there is less interest in all the consumerism, the petty problems, the issues, the dramas, politics. The obsession with the latest cell phone and the way it seems to suck the souls of those addicted is a mystery. In your wanderings you experience people, families, full of joy living on the streets. Back home someone is complaining because their dishwasher isn’t cleaning the dishes properly. These "my cup is half empty complaints" just fall on deaf ears. We have so much in the western culture and yet few people are happy and fewer are thankful. Complaining is a way of life. Living in gratitude changes a person’s life and soon you realize that you are grateful that the toilet flushed, or that there was a toilet. That there is electricity or a single bare light bulb to help you settle for the night. Or that there is an abundance of fresh unsprayed fruits and vegetables at the local market. Who needs all those processed packaged foods anyways? The lifestyle of the poor people of the world is at times the healthiest. Often vegetarians, because meat is expensive or rare, poor people do their own work daily, getting the exercise necessary for good health; something lacking in our couch potato culture. Osa called this flexibility with travel "relative values".
When returning from even a short sojourn, all but good friends and family will ask, “How was your trip?” or “What was the best thing you saw?” and 5 minutes later they are back talking about their latest failing relationship or issues or drama. Just the way it is. The gap widens. Global nomads are somehow threatening to their way of life. A wealth of experiences and first hand knowledge is often just blown off, vs. book learning or virtual you-tube movies or biased reporting of the mass media. Besides what do I need to know that for? I'll never go there anyways. The fact if we are all part of a global family and the more we learn about each other, the more bridges we build between cultures, the more similarites we find in each other, instead of fearing the differences the sooner mankind will see more peace on earth.
Knowledge dissolves ignorance, ignorance promotes fear. Fear is insidious. Fear runs most people’s lives. It dominates the safe little bubbles they call life. Fear runs our world!
With mass communication, the other side of the world is brought into our living rooms, but only the negative aspects of different cultures. Fear sells! Life was simpler back in Osa’s days.
(Foreword in Osa's book, 'I Married Adventure' where she recorded her life history : "In light of the placid expectation that because I was born in Chanute, Kansas, I would grow up, marry, raise a family, and die there,..."
"Osa Leighty was unimpressed by the young photographer who took her brother's portrait. She was more concerned that her three-year-old brother sit still.
It was hot, and she wanted to get home. The photographer, Martin Johnson, had traveled from Independence to Chanute to sell photographs at a penny a piece. Their chance meeting marked the beginning of an adventurous partnership that made Kansas history.
Martin Johnson spent the next several years traveling with Jack London and taking photographs in exotic places in the South Pacific. When he returned to Kansas in 1909 he traveled to Chanute to lecture and show his slides at an evening performance. The girl who was hired to provide musical entertainment for that performance was a friend of Osa's, and arranged a formal introduction between the two.
Osa was still not impressed. Martin was conceited and his photos of cannibals were horrible. Nonetheless, sixteen-year-old Osa was drawn to Martin, ten years her senior. They dated for three weeks and got married on a whim. To avoid having the marriage annulled by her father, Martin and Osa traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, for a second wedding.
Martin stayed behind the camera while Osa kept watch. Once, as Martin was photographing a herd of rhinoceroses, one of the animals caught wind of them and charged directly at Martin. With her trademark calmness, Osa raised her rifle, shot, and killed the charging rhino. Martin never missed a second of the action, capturing the dramatic moment on film.
Osa coordinated their trips, arranging for transportation of thousands of dollars of photographic equipment and supplies. On one African safari, Osa supervised the 235 porters who carried their supplies over swamplands where vehicles could not go. Following each trip, Osa and Martin would return to the United States to lecture, show their movies and tell of their travels. The Johnsons prided themselves on the natural accuracy of their movies. Rarely was the action staged and usually it was unpredictable. Osa and Martin never had children, but Osa was rarely seen without one of her pet monkeys riding on her shoulder.
Wanderlust. Another interesting phenomena was observed in my quest for the essence that makes up the 'missing link' of dromomaniacs - people who have the need to circumnavigate the globe; My name is Nancy and I am a dromomaniac!
The Macks, my great, great Grandfather's family also had the travel lust. They sailed on a ship from England to Canada. My great Grandfather found work where he could and walked over 1000 miles to eventually establish a homestead in central Wisconsin. In Loyal, he established a small school for the Native Americans living nearby. Rumor has it that he eventually married a beautiful, young Native American woman, and had “half-breed” children together. Is there Native American blood running deep in our veins? How about gypsy? Move over and make room for the Irish, English, Norwegian, Scotch and Croatian already pumping through me.
Westward Ho! Grandfather Paul's brother traveled by wagon train out west, where he established a homestead. His tales of dealings with the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest were captivating. My Mother had a hand beaded buckskin bag, filled with bead necklaces, which were handed down to her. Years later my Uncles David and Vick rode the rails out west in search of work during the depression. A real hobo adventure.
My Grandfather, Paul Mack, broke free from this farm life in southern Wisconsin and moved to the wild forests of Northern Wisconsin. Finding the sweet girl of his dreams, Grace, they raised a family and supported them amongst the hair raising escapades with bears and wolves, as a surveyor and trapper, in the wilds of the North woods.
My Mom, LaVerne showed her inherent feisty streak as she at 16, along with cousin Shirley, hitchhiked to southern Wisconsin to work at a camp for the summer. This was virtually unheard of in those days. A trapper’s daughter, at age 18, she packed her single cardboard suitcase and boarded the Soo line train with her friend Joyce. Off they went 6 days after high school graduation into the unknown to spend 4 years working for the FBI as finger print experts, in the big city of Washington, D.C. Talk about a change; from a quiet unheard of town like Andy’s Mayberry, to the Nation’s capitol. She relished and embraced the change and soon was thriving in the hustle and bustle of war time. She only returned at the family’s request to care for her poor Mother, Grace, who suffered a massive stroke at the early age of 60.
Lineage on my Dad’s side also speaks of daring courage. My Grandfather was born in Austria and by the time he was a young man, conflict in the war torn Austro Hungarian Empire sent him looking for freedom in America; the New World full of hope and promise. Before he left he fell in love with my Grandmother, Mary, or “Little Grandma” as we warmly remember her. Picked up by a horse drawn carriage in Yzerana, in the remote mountains of Croatia, she was whisked off to church to marry Emil. the man of her dreams. There was a great village celebration as the beautiful young bride, dressed in hand embroidered finery, fresh flowers braided in her hair, was presented. Dobro. All was good!
Emil left for America and after being processed in Ellis Island he found work wherever he could and finally in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Excited now he could send for his beloved bride in the Old Country to join him. This blessing of steady work for only 4 years turned out to be Emil's demise at age 51, from the deadly “black lung disease”. He left behind a wife and four sons, all of who survived active combat in WWII. They all thought that they would never see each other or home again. Once when all seemed hopeless in the raging battles of Marines vs. the Japanese in the South Pacific, a plane crashed on the air strip where my Dad was working. He dove for cover from the burning wreckage and to his amazement he landed next to his youngest brother Fred. Hope in the midst of despair. My Dad enlisted into adventure, but not the kind we would wish on anyone. Though very patriotic he disliked his time in the war, calling the military service a ‘dog’s life’. He was too independent to be ordered around, carrying out someone else’s bidding. What he experienced in those 5 years of horror sent him packing back to his small hometown of Mellen, WI. Grateful to have survived, he never really wanted to venture out into the cold cruel world again. Once retired he and my Mom were able to travel with me, thus enjoying the world he had fought so hard to preserve.
With a apprehensive yet adventuresome spirit my Grandma, Mary, sought passage on the last ship sailing from Croatia to America, before WWI. Coming from a family of 10 children she was so excited to join the love of her life, Emil, but promised land it wasn’t. She pined for her family in the 'Old Country'. She was lonely, and she cried daily. Once she had her 4 sons she settled down and adjusted to her new life. Back then she would have had to return to Croatia by ship, another week of gut wrenching misery, something she wanted to avoid at all costs. The price she paid was never seeing her family again.
Family is the only casualty of ending up on the other side of the world. I can say truthfully that I love my family with all my heart and that I have been and continue to be a great Mom. In fact we have always been in contact and it is often the busyness of family that causes a misconnect. One of my friends in my hometown said she thought I saw more of my family than she did, living only 20 miles away.
I miss closer contact with family, especially at the holidays, but now we can jump on a plane and hours later be reunited with loved ones. You will never find me complaining of a long plane flight, once a marathon of 55 hours from Central Africa. I sit back watching movies, drinking tomato juice and eating peanuts, and remember the burden of long distance travel as recently as the beginning of the century. My courageous Grandma never saw family again, a true hardship.
I have two sides to me. One likes to cook and garden and curl up with a good book. But soon I start dreaming of Egypt and wanderlust prevails. My family is important to me and I have always made a great attempt to keep the relationship strong from afar. Keeping in touch with family is made easier nowadays. Skype, email, Facebook, keep the connection stronger than in my grandparents days. On Skype our grandkids, Kaimana and Kayla and little Leo in Hawaii, with their faces 6 inches from the screen, relate their latest escapades in school or at the beach to Tutu and Grampy. Our hearts melt.
I grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting, small town U.S.A. A great place to grow up and a great place to be from. School was always pretty easy for me so I spent my time looking at the maps on the wall or gazing out the window. Every day at 11a.m. the Greyhound Bus drove through town heading south toward Chicago. I swore one day I would be on that bus. I first made a long unheard of trip from the northern U.S. down to Florida with my Mom at age 12, on that very bus. At age 16 I heard Tenzing Norquay, first man on Mt. Everest with Sir Edmond Hillary, speak at Northland College. He showed the rare footage they took while standing on Chumulanga – Mother Goddess of the World. I knew then that I would one day see Everest and in fact hiked to Base Camp in 1999.
At age 17 I blew the roof off the small town paradigm by spending 4 months in Mexico City living with multi-millionaires, learning Spanish, and about life in general. I never stopped going. I never stopped learning. Like instinct, my wanderlust ignited a spark in me to explore wherever the open road led. I hitchhiked 3500 miles across Canada with my fiancé in 1975. What adventures we encountered on the open road, ending up in the beauty of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. With strong family ties I always made annual trips back to visit family or they came out to stay for the winter. I took a course to become a professional travel agent to support my ‘travel habit’.
When we moved to Hawaii, everyone was excited at the new adventure we called life. My 2 children Mariah and Kevin were raised with exploration as the norm. When Mariah spent University abroad for 4 years, we joined her in Costa Rica and even hiked the Inca Trail in Peru. We traveled regularly and I took them around the world for a year, as a single Mother, at ages 13 and 18. We sailed in Raratonga, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, taught English in Kathmandu, rode on top of buses and gazed on the Taj Mahal in India, camped with a jeep, lions roaring nearby in the wilds of Africa, explored the hidden chambers of the pyramids on camel in Egypt, to name a few. What a year! In fact Mariah had visited 32 countries by the time she was 28. When Kevin entered Geography 101 in University of Boulder, CO, he had to stand up, give his name, and list the countries he had traveled to. Naming over 20 exotic countries he called me that evening, amazed at how little his classmates had traveled. “I just thought my upbringing was normal.” Only normal if you have a Mother like me. You can say a lot of things about me but normal or boring don’t make the list.
Round two. In perfect accord I met the love of my life while living in Hawaii, at a funeral of all places and we were married within a year. A couple of like minded travelers, both with experience and passion for the far reaches of the globe. Traveling with someone for years is trial by fire. We have passed the test, through thick and thin. A great traveler, Joseph, started traveling with his Mom as a boy in 1961, when the pace of the world was slow and forests plentiful. They traveled for 7 years before they met their first tourists. He has been to over 150 countries and around the world 32 times for pleasure and business. For 6 summers they explored S. America, Asia, Africa. Nothing changes a child or expands a person's horizon like traveling.
We were on the same page, or rather, on the same plane a year later to begin our ultimate adventure as World Globetrotters. We sold and gave everything away, keeping a mere 6 boxes each, which will someday fit into a small villa in Bali or Sumatra, when we decide to slow down our pace of global exploration. We have gone on a 'drive about' living in a small van around all of Australia for 1 year and Africa for 3 years, hiking to the Congo border to visit remote Pygmies, surrounded by lions and over 100 wild elephants in Botswana, climbed to Machu Pichu in the Andes of South America, were 'tomb raiders' in Egypt, traveled by jeep, bus, horse, camel, truck and train the length and breadth of China and Tibet for 14 months, a year in superlative exotic India, explored the ancient city of Petra, Jordan on a look around the Middle East in search of the best falafels, discovered the hidden secrets of ancient tribes in Omo Valley in Ethiopia, got lost in the exotic bazaars of N. Africa, danced salsa with the locals in the streets of Havana, and discovered the wonders of S. E. Asia for close to 5 years. We found ourselves in the middle of a mini war in Assam, were under house arrest (actually houseboat arrest) in Kashmir for 2 weeks until the curfew was lifted, had a large monkey jump into our van to challenge us in Africa, had a jeep of policemen, 6 in the back with machine guns, looking for us for a whole afternoon in Mozambique and on and on..... No problem. We still maintain that we meet 95% great people and 5% not so great worldwide. Funny how you find what you are looking for in life. Currently in our 15th plus year of continuous travel, having covered every continent but Antarctica, I sit in Morocco writing from the heart, while gazing out over the ocean. What a wonderful yet wild and crazy ride life has been! To fight the flow would have caused unrest in my soul. Global citizens and 'certifiable' Nomads we look for the good in the world and find it. Born of a vision. Continuing out of passion... the open road beckons us.
We are all dancing the 'dance of life'. Some days it’s the waltz, some days the cha cha and hopefully many days the passionate tango. Never stop dancing. Traveling pulls us out of our mind, forces us to observe the world around us. It forces us into the NOW, a great place to hang out. Following your dreams or just living life can be challenging. There is an unexplainable force of support surrounding each of us as we dance through life. Just be open to it.
Suffering a major stroke at 86 my dear Mom, though totally bed ridden still travels in her mind, which I guess may be the next progression. Having traveled to over a dozen countries with me she told me to “Get out there and travel. Don’t sit around here holding my hand! But please come visit when you can." When I called her from a remote corner of Africa, ‘Call to Prayer’ ringing in the background, she talked for a couple of minutes then informed me she was busy! But Gami, “I walked a mile to get a connection to call you on Skype. What are you busy doing?" "I’m going out for a ride on my motorcycle!” She leaves me speechless sometimes! She told me, “Smile, lighten up Nancy, life really IS funny. Adventure still runs in her blood. At age 91 she will soon be traveling the galaxy and beyond. Life is shorter than you think. I too will, before I know it, be traveling on a one way ticket through infinity. Who knows, I might bump into her 'somewhere out there’. She will be genuinely interested in my latest adventures. She always has been. For she is a traveler, with adventure cursing through her veins. She understands in her heart that all those who wander aren’t lost!
Osa Quoted from/photos:
Note: I started these writings while my Mom visited us in S. Thailand in 2009, continued in remote S. Morocco in 2017 and now put the page together in 2018 in Sumatra. Sometimes a story just needs to be told, no matter how long it takes. Hope you enjoy it. Every wonder how you ended up where you are today? Ask your older relatives before they are gone, which will be sooner than you think. They are a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be asked.
7 Life Lessons Learned Only Through Travel
“I am living the most incredible adventure.
It is this belief in a power larger than my-self and other than my-self, which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable.”
Part of our trip map.
Osa and Martin on Safari in E. Africa. They
traveled the world, in unheard of adventures
between 1917& 1937, photographing wild
animals and native peoples in the South Sea
islands, Borneo, and Africa.
Osa riding a zebra.
Osa with cannibals in Borneo.
Nancy & Joseph off to find pygmies on the Congo
border. In our 16th year of continual travel (2018)
we are true world nomads, with adventure
in our blood.
Pyramids in Cairo.
Joseph with 2 girlfriends along
Lake Turkana in NW Kenya.
Brilliant blue butterfly in the Amazon.
South Seas cannibals in New Hebrides.
Martin and Osa were "invited to dinner"
and narrowly escaped with their lives.
Dancing before dinner.
Ferocious Chief Nagapate.
Natives in Papua, New Guinea.
'Caught in the act' - dancing with the
Dassanech women in Omo Valley.
Mursi women with lip plates. We were warned
to beware of the dangerous Mursi tribe. We
ended up playing with the children and dancing
with the women.
Karo people of Omo Valley, Ethiopia. They
paint themselves with the chalk in the river
bank far below their village.
Headhunters in the South Pacific, circa 1919.
Osa with Masai in Kenya.
Osa and Martin in their prop planes
used to fly over Africa.
Osa and her ever present pet monkey.
King of Beasts.
Nancy and Joseph riding Bactrian camels
(2 humped) in the Gobi Desert. That 2nd hump
makes a good back rest!
Flat bird head dress in Papua.
Hamer lady of Omo Valley.
Riding elephants in Laos.
Pandas in China.
My Grandmother, Grace Mack, true pioneers.
My grandparents, Mary and Emil Jelich,
immigrated from Austria and Croatia right
before WWI; in search of a better life in the
Joseph traveling with his Mom to Japan 1961,
on a S. E. Asia tour for 3 months.
Nancy living with multi-millionaires in
Mexico, learning Spanish, at age 17.
Teotihuacan, Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico
Hiking to Everest Base Camp in 1999, this was our
morning view of Mt. Everest from our tent.
China has eased up travel restrictions since 1999.
We were given a permit to 'ascend the peak' of Mt.
Everest in 2 days. We hiked to about 20,000 ft. and of
course overstayed our permit. We were arrested twice
because of this but $5 and a signed confession satisfied
the out post police.
Boudanath Stupa, Kathmandu.
In 1996, as a single Mom, I took Mariah and
Kevin around the world for a year. The best
education you can give your children is to take
them traveling to remote areas. It opens their
We also hiked the Inca trail to Machu Pichu
Hiking over a back breaking peak, we passed
through the Gate of the Sun, and saw the sun rise
over the Inca's sacred site.
Mysterious Machu Pichu in all it's glory.
Riding camels out to view the Pyramids in Giza.
We took a jeep around Kenya and Tanzania,
camping in the wilds; with only a fire and Masai
warriors guarding our camp from lions.
A friendly kangaroo Down Under in Australia.
Joseph and I also toured S. and Central America
for over 2.5 years.
The famous bowler hat mix up. Hats destined
for London were shipped to S. America by mistake.
A new fashion was born!
We took a boat up rapids then camped in the
jungle and hiked into Angel Falls, the world's
We drove a truck then hiked into a remote village
of the Waiorani tribe, in S.E. Ecuador, in the Amazon
Basin. We felt as close to a'first encounter'
experience as it gets.
Nothing like a good C*ban cigar!
Hiking into Petra, the lost city in the Jordanian
Desert, was truly an 'Indiana Jones' adventure.
What is the Middle Eastern Desert without camels?
Omar, our Tuareg guide in the Sahara
Desert of Morocco.
The Sahara is spellbinding.
The Sufi whirling dervishes of Turkey.
Old windmill high atop the cliffs of Santorini,
In our 14th year of travel (2016), Santorini. Still
happy and healthy and loving life!
Masai medicine man, Tanzania.
Hamer woman with large copper neck band.
We hiked into the jungle and found the Pygmy
village. This, the king of the tribe, asked if we
were missionaries? We said, "No."
Samburu women sang and danced, in private for me,
in Wamba, N.W. Kenya. The dance is performed for
the frightened girl the night before her circumcision.
A memorable trek into the Impenetrable Forest of
W. Uganda to experience the unbelievable
wild mountain gorillas.
Mystical Shwedagon Paya, Yangon Burma's 30 story
stupa covered in gold.
A tribute to my Mom, LaVerne, who passed on
the adventure gene to me. Here in Vietnam,
she was always gung-ho to travel with us and never
complained, even when the going got tough.
Long neck tribe on the Burmese border.
We hiked into the Sumatran jungle with a ranger.
We came across this pregnant, wild female
orangutan. We 'preened' her for 20 minutes
and when we left she cried tears! How do
you ever forget an experience like that? Now
our dear friends are on the brink of extinction.
India the exotic land of color. Rahjastani gypsy
girls dancing in the desert.
Indian Sadus or holy men.
We met dozens of remote tribes in W. China during
our 14.5 months traveling around China.
Tibet was a unique place in our travels. Here is a
Tibetan lady adorned in gold and turquoise, while
making a pilgrimage to Lhasa.
We hired a jeep and drove 22 days across Tibet,
ending up in the Gugai Kingdom, near the borders
of Afghanistan. All along the way we visited remote
Buddhist temples full of monks of all ages.