The Reluctant Traveler

My wife, Nancy, and I were married on September 8, 2001. I was 65 years old at the time. Marriage at that late date in life is always a sign of optimism. Perhaps I was under the influence of the euphoria that accompanies optimism the way flies accompany honey. Whatever the reason, I wrote into my marriage vows a quotation from the Book of Ruth 1:16, the one that begins "for whither thou goest, I will go." My wife-to-be loved to travel. It seemed like a nice thing to say at the time. Never in a thousand years did I think those words would become a yoke around my neck. In the six years since we have been married, I have "whither thou goest, I will go-ed" my wife to over twenty countries, everywhere from Uganda to Easter Island. She has been as happy as the proverbial clam at high tide. She looks at a new destination the way a child looks at Santaland in Macy's windows at Christmas time. I see it as a trip to the dentist. I have written about it in the Atlantic Monthly and spoken about it on NPR's All Things Considered. Now I am blogging about it. Maybe this will help.

In just four days time, lord help me, Nancy and I will be leaving for Bhutan, a tiny nation snuggled in between India to the south, Tibet to the north, Nepal to the west and China to the east. The good news is that the country is only 18,000 square miles in size. The bad news is that those 18,000 miles are somewhere between 500 and 25,000 feet above sea level. Bhutan begins where the Himalayan mountains begin. We will be trekking in those mountains, visiting ancient monasteries and getting wet in torrential rains that generally inflict Bhutan this time of year. Nancy can't wait.

Bhutan is an interesting country. The present king has decreed that there will be a democracy this time next year. He has even ordered a practice election which took place just last week. High school students stood in for candidates. According to the newspapers everything went well. The king has also decreed that in the computation of Bhutan's Gross National Product, the happiness of the people must be a factor, along with such mundane matters as economic growth and literacy. I admit to a grudging curiosity about a country that places happiness high up on the ladder of GNP success. But the damn country is 24 hours away as the airplane flies. I may perish from some thrombotic attack before I set foot on its muddy ground. I must remember to get up out of my seat every hour and walk a bit. That is a lot harder than it sounds. I am so afraid of flying that I usually down a double vodka and two glasses of wine over dinner as a talisman against mechanical failure. It makes aisle walking difficult.

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