If I’m going to get to every country in the world before I die the world will have to be broken down into big neighborhoods—VERY BIG neighborhoods. In fact the next neighborhood I’m going to tackle is Central America, which will be a birthday present from my two sons for aging semi-gracefully. We will start in Panama or Guatemala, travel from one to the other through Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. I think a side trip to Cuba may be in there, at least for me.
I have been to 90 countries so far and my most interesting and successful trips were by land through clusters of countries—Eastern Europe and West Africa being the best examples to date.
My “History of the World since 1300” class has made me think about this idea of the world has a series of smaller and bigger neighborhoods whose borders shift over time. The neighborhood I live in has its streets of fine old houses with some ramshackle corners here and there (one is now quite famous having acted as a meth house on “Breaking Bad”). There seems to be a relatively diverse population and we have a river and woods (with a battle brewing over their future); and duck ponds nearby. So I am thinking that Eastern Europe is just a bigger version of my neighborhood. It has its areas of prosperity and poverty; natural beauty and storybook locations (Transylvania comes to mind) and bullet-scarred hills; infamous battles and wars making it historically fascinating and full of drama.
I spent three weeks there, visiting 11 countries of Eastern Europe and Turkey. I took buses and trains and long distance taxis everywhere, only twice compelled to fly. I certainly did not get to know a great deal about any one country on the trip (that’s what reading books ahead of time is for) but I felt like three weeks in the neighborhood put all of the things I had read into context. It works! Now I just must fit 105 more countries into a few years of three week jaunts and my mission will be complete.
But back to my class—looking at WORLD history does give spheres of influence/spheres of trade new meaning. But can I connect the class with my travel goals—which would enrich both endeavors. For example I look at a map of the Mongol Campaigns and a big part of that huge Eurasian land mass is my VERY big neighborhood to cover in 2015. The Stan countries, Russia, Mongolia, Korea (South and North!—how will I manage that?).
Actually, this is not a bad way to connect with world history—using it to plan your travels. I will read more extensively about the Mongols and the history of that land since back when those fierce people on their shaggy ponies descended on the unsuspecting of other tribes. And my planning and traveling will occur with some additional awareness of where and why I’m going there. And who was there before.