Story and photos by Bob Schulman
Exploring a Greek island, a Mexican colonial town or a Biblical site can be a lot more fun if you put yourself in the sandals, boots and shoes of the historical superstars of those places.
In western Jordan, for instance, it's a short drive to the top of Mt. Nebo, where you can look down on a valley of the River Jordan – and get the thrill of seeing what Moses saw when he got his first look at The Promised Land. Later on, visit the ruins of Jericho in a Palestinian area of the valley and put yourself in the sandals of the ancient Canaanites. It's not hard to conjure up terrifying thoughts of Joshua's army circling the city to the scary blaring of rams' horns.
While you're in the area you can wade in the River Jordan in the place where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. What's more, you can opt to be baptized yourself by a local clergyman, right there.
A ride to the end of the Earth
In southwest Spain, visit the tiny town of Palos de la Frontera and imagine it's 1492, and you're among sailors boarding three rickety caravels – the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria – for a long trip through uncharted waters. Maybe you'll get a chance to chat with Captain Columbus before your ship falls off the end of the Earth.
Jump ahead to 1519, and you're in a waterfront town known as “the most Spanish of all Spanish cities.” It's the Andalusian gem of Seville, and you're on the docks of the Guadalquivir River getting ready to sail around the world with Ferdinand Magellan. You've been lucky enough to be assigned to a broad-beamed carrack called the Victoria – lucky because it was the only one of Magellan's five ships to make it back to Spain.
Stick with 1519 for a while, and picture yourself in a sleepy Mayan fishing village on the island of Cozumel off the Caribbean coast of Mexico. All of a sudden, 500 bearded guys wearing funny metal hats show up yelling “Por Santiago” (for St. James, the patron saint of Spain). It's the start of Hernan Cortes' conquest of Mexico, and you've got a front-row seat.
Out in the Sonoran desert of northern Mexico, a stroll along the cobbled lanes and porticoed walkways of a city called Alamos takes you back to the 1700s, when this Spanish mining town was one of the richest spots on Earth. Wandering around, you're among silver barons in fancy shirts, velvet breeches and knee-high leather boots strutting off to count the day’s take. And among grand ladies in hooped skirts and white petticoats heading to afternoon teas. Silver-plated carriages, it's said, once lined Alamos’ narrow lanes like Rolls-Royces along Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive.
So long, Captain Bligh
Jump through a time warp to the Pacific island of Tahiti in 1789, when the idyllic beauty of this spot prompted you and others in the crew of the HMS Bounty to tell Captain Bligh to bug off. True, you'd have been less inclined to do that in today's traffic jams and skyrocketing prices on the island, but centuries ago its pristine, palm-lined bays and moonlit beaches sure beat hardtack chow and getting thrashed now and then on the Bounty.
It's still the 1930s up in the Canadian Rockies at Lake Louise. Here, it's hard to resist belting out lines from Indian Love Call a la Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald as you mosey around this gorgeous mile-and-a-half-long lake. It's surrounded by snowcapped mountains, creating perfect acoustics for your version of that romantic song.
Finally, spend a few hours cruising around the Aegean Sea south of Greece, and it's not hard to slip into the adventures of Odysseus on his 10-year-long trip back to Ithaca from the Trojan War. You can see yourself battling a three-headed monster on one island, steering clear of the Sirens on another and matching wits with the witch-goddess Circe (who turned you and the rest of the lads into pigs for awhile) on still another.
And you thought there wouldn't be much to write home about from all these places.
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