In the Stockyards of Fort Worth, the West Survives

I was in the cattle pen learning how to throw a lasso, keeping my thumb down and helicoptering it above my head — when I told my instructor, Dave, how impressed I was with the Stockyards, Fort Worth’s neighborhood of cattle pens, brick roads, bull rings, saloons, boot makers and a honky tonk that has been restored to resemble its late 19th century form.

Tourism typically destroys culture, but in this case, even though you could smell the marketing dollars in the air, the endeavor was preserving the city’s past as a town of cowboys and cattle drives. It was great that I was here learning these old tricks of the trade, I told him. There aren’t many places you can learn to throw a lasso nowadays.

“It’s really important for us”, he said, “Because the cowboy is the American icon. It’s our past and I think a lot of the world still remembers us as cowboys.”

I’m not sure how deeply I agree with the last part, but the rapid disappearance of the cowboy is true. Dave said that my little 15-minute lesson had already taught me more than what most Texas high school students know about what it meant, and still means, to be a cowboy. This was a shock. The cowboy era was indeed a huge part of American history outside of the Northeast. Is it really almost gone?

Read the rest of this article on Gear Patrol.

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Two Week Southeast Asia Trip Centers Around Myanmar

Myanmar - Bagan

The temples of Bagan. Photo by Worak.

If I ever need a reminder about how quickly time flies, all I have to do is visit my own website. I sat down today to write a post, and realized I hadn’t done so since November 23rd. Jesus. That could have been yesterday for all I remember. Travel does a funny thing to your perception of time. I feel like I have done so much since visiting Papua New Guinea and sitting down with Jim Koch in Boston, yet it feels as if no time has passed. Perhaps, in a way, there’s some truth to that.

I had a wonderful holiday season, and I hope you did too. I took two weeks off to rest and spend time with family, and now I’m back on the road. I made a visit to our Nation’s Capital, did a ski story in Vail, and attended the inaugural NCAA National Championship Game in North Texas. You can see a snapshot of the latter here.

As I write this, I’m currently making my way to Myanmar, somewhere out over the Pacific Ocean. Myanmar has a wild history, one that saw its capital moved from Yangon (formerly Rangoon) north to Nay Pyi Taw just a decade ago in 2005. The country was occupied by both the Japanese and the Brits in the years during and after World War II, and today is transitioning towards democracy. I can’t wait to walk the streets and experience and interpret it all firsthand.

Aside from the chance to explore the country, I’m also anticipating my participation in the 2015 ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), which will be held next week in Nay Pyi Taw. ASEAN is an organization comprised of ten Southeast Asia member nations – Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Brunei – that meet to discuss the future of travel within the region. This includes tourism plans for each individual country as well as how they can/will work together to improve tourism amongst and between the member nations. Last year, I covered the conference in Kuching and learned a hell of a lot. There’s a possibility that I will puddle jump over to another country after the conference before returning to the States, but I’m not entirely sure yet about my plans.

In other news, I recently won a “best writing” award for a Gear Patrol story on hiking in the Grand Canyon to Havasu Falls. You can see the award and read the story here. I’m not very big on awards, especially in something as subjective as writing, but it’s always nice to be acknowledged and know my words are impacting people. Gear Patrol and I have been teaming up a lot lately on “road note” stories, and if you’d like to read about some of my recent adventures (since I suck at updating the blog), go here. You can also follow along on social media if you want.

The start of 2015 marks the beginning of my fourth year of full time travel writing. I’m looking forward to another.

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From Papua New Guinea to Colombia, Santa Fe, and Japan

I am crossing paths with society tonight, and just wanted to let you know that I’m still alive and well here in Papua New Guinea. I have not yet been raped, murdered, or robbed, and in fact, am absolutely on cloud nine right now after these past two days.

I am quite literally investigating the birth of tourism here in PNG, and yesterday, I visited a village where I was, no exaggeration, the 4th white person the people had ever seen. My travels have taken me to an area called Lake Murray, a marshy swampland fed by 18 rivers and only accessible via charter flight just east of the Indonesian border.

My plan is to draw up the framework for a story that chronicles my travels, the story of a person who went to Papua New Guinea and didn’t die. Imagine that!

This kid's getup gives a whole new meaning to the word "parrothead." Photo by Wake and Wander.

This kid’s getup gives a whole new meaning to the word “parrothead.” Photo by Wake and Wander.

While the PNG stories come into form and find their respective landing places, I will close out November with a week in Colombia, followed by December trips to Santa Fe, Kyoto, and Aruba before taking a break for the holidays.

During my time on the east coast between Christmas and New Years, I plan to continue my string of brewer profiles by spending the day with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head in Delaware. Earlier this summer I bloodied my elbow during an interview with badass biker/brewer Dale Katechis of Oskar Blues, and last month I sat down with Jim Koch of Sam Adams. I am working on the story as we speak and it should be out by the year’s end.

Will McGough of Wake and Wander interviews Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company.  Photo by Ryan Dearth.

Interview with Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company. Photo by Ryan Dearth.

It’s unbelievable that 2015 is about a month away, but I am excited for what it holds. With the calendar already filling up with trips and stories for January, February, March, and April, we’ll have lots to chat about. I’ll check back in soon. More photos and commentary available here.

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Visiting Hawaii’s Golden Cage: The Leper Colony on Molokai

What I’m about to tell you might be hard to believe: The photo you see above is of a prison. Not a view from a prison, but a prison in itself. I’m sure you’re confused. Let me explain.

In 1865, King Kamehameha V and the Hawaii Board of Health created the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy” in an attempt to do just that: Control the highly-contagious disease that seemed poised to become nothing short of a major epidemic on the islands. The plan was simple: Take everyone who was infected and quarantine them off from the rest of society. A remote location called the Kalaupapa Peninsula (KA-LOU-PAPA), shown in the photos of this post, was chosen as the location. Sporting the highest sea cliffs in the world and rough seas off shore, it was the obvious choice at the northern end of the lightly-populated island of Molokai.

View of the Kalaupapa Peninsula from the hike down the sea cliffs

Upon the law’s enactment in January of 1866, a group of 12 people became the first “patients” to be shipped off to Kalaupapa. Here, their new life began in a commune of their “own kind.” Surviving the disease was a long shot, most suffering from a combination of deformities, upper respiratory problems, and nerve damage. Saintly figures such as Father Damien – who was officially canonized by the Catholic Church a few years ago in 2009 – tried to give the patients the dignity that the government did not through treatment, comfort, and community. Thousands more, many misdiagnosed, would be forced into exile over the years, some given only a day’s notice before they were taken from their families and exiled to Molokai.

This went on for about 80 years before a cure was discovered in the 1940s that changed everything. The patients, now drastically improved, began to really create a life for themselves. They could hold jobs, attend sporting events, and enjoy theater, art, and dance. Although Hawaii’s official policy was not retracted until 1969, the forced isolation of leprosy patients came to an end twenty years earlier in 1949. At this time, celebrities such as Shirley Temple and John Wayne came to Kalaupapa to perform and helped to change the public perception of the now-curable disease.

Furthering the “stuck in time” feel is the fact that tours are given in an old school bus

Interestingly enough, although the patients were free to leave, many decided to stay. The scenery is an easy explanation as to why – and was no doubt part of it – but more to the point was the fact that Kalaupapa had become a place for them to call home, a place they felt accepted, welcomed, and understood. When the patients were made free to leave, Hawaii put forth a rule that once you left, you could not return. Stories told today at Kalaupapa say that many who decided to leave regretted it after only a few months, faced with a public that, despite the efforts of many, was still uneasy of those who had leprosy.

Today, nine patients still live at Kalaupapa. A visit to the peninsula today almost feels like a visit to the set of the television show LOST, where small, plantation-style homes sit in the shadow of majestic, breathtaking scenery, seemingly frozen in time, complete with decaying old vehicles. In addition to the patients, about a hundred staff members, from doctors and nurses to National Forest personal, also call Kalaupapa home. At its prime, there were a total of four churches and eight bars. Today, the four churches are still there yet only one bar remains. There’s a gas station that sells fuel for $5.10 a gallon, and each resident is entitled to seven gallons a week.

Buildings at Kalaupapa were built in plantation style

The peninsula is closed to the public except for those with permits for the tour. There are three options for entrance: Hike a three-mile trail down the sea cliffs, join a mule tour, or fly in on a scenic flight from Molokai airport. Regardless of how one enters, everyone joins the same daily tour, which goes around the complex in an old yellow school bus. For more information on access, go here.

Sitting on the beach before hiking back up the cliffs, staring out over the water and hearing the waves crash into the rocks, I had a thought. Maybe I shouldn’t refer to it as a prison. Perhaps “golden cage” is more appropriate.

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Photos: Epic Campsites From Around the Hawaiian Islands

I’ve spent the past two weeks on Hawaii, traveling between five different islands and working on a variety of stories. I took my first ever trips to Molokai and Lanai, revisited Maui and Oahu, and conquered the Kalalau Trail on Kauai, one of the world’s toughest island hikes (despite starting and ending at sea level, it climbs and descends 5,000 feet over the course of the one-way 11-mile trek).

In between hotel stays for stories, I’ve been appeasing my adventurous side by checking out different camping areas around the islands. As you might expect, the scenery is pretty spectacular, and I’ve become very fond of the sounds of the waves massaging me to sleep at night. Below, I’ve put together a glimpse of some of the sites I’ve called home this trip.

Turns out, ocean views don’t have to cost big bucks:

Awalua Beach on Lanai. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Awalua Beach on Lanai. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Kalalau, Kauai. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Kalalau, Kauai. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Kalalau, Kauai. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Kalalau, Kauai. Photo by Wake and Wander.

East side of Haleakala National Park, Maui. Photo by Wake and Wander.

East side of Haleakala National Park, Maui. Photo by Wake and Wander.

East side of Haleakala National Park, Maui. Photo by Wake and Wander.

East side of Haleakala National Park, Maui. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Kanaha Beach Park, Kahului, Maui. Photo by Wake and Wander.

Kanaha Beach Park, Kahului, Maui. Photo by Wake and Wander.

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