Alphabet Adventures started during the start of the pandemic, when people were locked down. Folks listed places they’ve been, going through the alphabet. I’m posting this a little later than most, but have read many other folks who have done it and enjoy reading where they have been. Each letter has one place with a short blurb, but some of these I have posted about previously. For those readers new to this blog, I have added links to the longer story of some of these places (in green text). Man, it sure was hard to decide which place to use for each letter. Some great places didn’t make the cut.
All of these places are more than just a checklist on the alphabet. All have had an impact on my life and each are worthy of a post of their own, with many that I haven’t written about yet. This makes we want to weave the whole alphabet into one continuous story someday, instead of just a checklist, which will really take a lot of time. I hope you enjoy this geographical journey as you virtually travel around the world with us!
A is for Argentina
Argentina slightly beat out Andorra to represent the letter A. Argentina is such a large and diverse place, it is hard to only use one picture to represent it. This one is from Patagonia in the south of the country. From penguins on a desert beach at Punta Tombo, to the expansive Pampas, to the rugged mountain cordillera, and from the sculptured forest near El Bolson, Argentina is chock full of unique and beautiful landscapes. I recently made a post about traveling the Famous Ruta 40 from north Argentina’s Epic Road Trip: La Ruta Cuarenta – (Route 40)
B is for Bolivia
A very diverse landlocked country, I visited the Altiplano over a decade ago and sat in Butch Cassidy’s grave in San Vincente. The high altitude, salt flats, Aymara culture and unique flora and fauna make Bolivia one of my favorite countries. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about my wonderful guide for a trip to the Salar de Uyuni and a climb of the 19,667′ volcano Licancabur. The letter B was a tough choice for me, as I also wanted to highlight my time in Barcelona, Catalunya. For the longer version, click on the following link Bernardo: Hombre de Bolivia
C is for Cape Town, RSA or Condega, Nicaragua
Hard to choose amongst the many C places I’ve been to. Condega, Nicaragua is Bend’s sister city, but I chose Cape Town, RSA, as it is one of the most beautiful settings in the world. This view is from the top of Table Mountain. We also drove to the Cape of Good Hope at the end of Africa, just a couple of hours to the south. Besides being set in a beautiful location, Cape Town is a cosmopolitan city with many cultures. Afterwards, we took a group camping trip from here through Namibia and Botswana and ending in Zimbabwe.
D is for Dead Vlei, Namibia
Dead Vlei is a landscape that looks like Salvador Dali designed it. 800 years ago, the shifting sand dunes cut off what little moisture drained into this former swamp, cutting off the water source for these trees. Since Namibia is such a dry desert, the dead trees do not rot like they would in other climes, so they just stand out starkly, like petrified ghosts against the high dunes in the background. I actually saw an ostrich running here across the dunes, but he was too fast for me to shoot his picture! The United Nations of Namibia
E is for Estonia
All of the Baltic States have their charms, but Estonia stands out among them. I got to pedal a bicycle from Parnu on the mainland through the western islands about 5 years ago. The capital of Tallinn has a charming old medieval walled city. The roads are good and lightly trafficked, and there is a lot of nature to explore. The Happy Isles of Western Estonia
F is for Frenchglen, Oregon
Frenchglen, Oregon (pop. 11) sits at the edge of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. It made national news in January of 2016 when a group of armed protesters blockaded the refuge and took it over. The historic Frenchglen Hotel caters to birders who visit the refuge to view neotropical migrants during the Spring and Fall migrations. They have great meals served there family style. I used to make at least one pilgrimage a year to the Frenchglen and the Malheur Refuge. A friend and I biked across Oregon over a decade ago and stopped in Frenchglen on our way home. The post of this trip was uploaded in January of 2021 B.R.O.A.D. (Bike Riding Oregon Across the Desert)
G is for Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
This is the place that I fell in love with sea kayaking, as we paddled the whole East Arm of the Bay in three decades ago. After that, I became a guide for Alaska Discovery and then opened my own business (GreatLand Guides) and ran it until 2000. I’ve posted numerous stories on Alaska, of which I’ve created a whole category for on this website. Just four years after our trip, I found that the Muir Glacier had melted back another 4 miles. Go see it and enjoy the abundant wildlife and majestic landscapes. You don’t have to paddle, but can take a day tour from Gustavus, Alaska. Some folks just see it as part of an Alaskan cruise, but I would recommend a smaller boat to really enjoy all the park has to offer.
H is for Havana, Cuba
During the Obama administration there was legal person-to-person travel to Cuba if you applied through a special program. Independent travel was illegal then and still is. Now you can’t even legally go at all, which is a damn shame. Every other country in the world besides the USA travels there freely. Although it is poor, Havana has a lot of culture and history to explore and Havana will be your base from which to explore the rest of Cuba. This picture is of the fort across the bay, which I took from the Malecon (sea wall). I hope Americans (myself included) will be able to go back in my lifetime!
I is for Iceland
Lying in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean over two diverging ocean plates, Iceland is the “Land of Fire and Ice”. We drove the ring road around the island for about 900 miles of awesome coastline. The picture below is of Gulfoss (Golden Falls) in the interior near the southwest part of the island. Melting snows and abundant rainfall at this latitude make for a year round thundering cascade. The volcanic landscape and the geologic faults at right angles make Gulfoss one of the most interesting waterfalls not only of Iceland, but maybe of the whole world.
J is for Juneau, Alaska
Juneau was my home for 3 Winters and many more summers. It is Alaska’s capital city. You can only get there by boat or plane from somewhere else. The Tongass National Forest dominates the panhandle and surrounds all of the communities of Southeast Alaska. Combine deep, glacially carved fjords, abundant wildlife, and majestic mountains with a rich cultural history and you will have a place as special as Juneau.
K is for Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania
What can I say about this experience except…WOW! We did this trip just a few short years ago, and am glad we made it, as I don’t think I would reach the top today. The porters were great. The moment at the top felt ethereal in the thin air and we got a glimpse of what little glacier remains on the south side of the mountain. For the full story, see Mt. Kilimanjaro: The Lemosho Route
L is for Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein is a double landlocked micro-state wedged in between Austria and Switzerland. It is one of only two double landlocked countries in the world, the other being Uzbekistan. That means the counties that surround it are also landlocked countries. My claim to fame is that I’ve been to both of them. Liechtenstein is only 16 miles across and it is aligned with the Swiss federation and they use the Swiss Franc as their currency. You will also have to go through customs and immigration if you are coming in from the Austria and the European Union.
M is for Montenegro
Montenegro is one of the newer countries in the world, having declared independence from Serbia in 2006. For a small country, it has amazing diversity, from a beautiful coastline to the high Dinaric Alps. The hiking and kayaking there are great. It also has the deepest gorge in Europe. I may have a post about this area before the end of this year.
N is for New Zealand
About the same size as the state of California, New Zealand also has some of the most diverse landscapes and ecosystems of any place in the world of that size. From tropical beaches to deeply fjorded coastlines, to the Southern Alps of the South Island or the volcanoes of the North Island, New Zealand has something for everyone. I had a hard time choosing one picture, but settled on the one of the Pancake Rocks on the West Coast of the South Island where the waves would come crashing into the sedimentary rocks and spray us through some of the many blowholes in the eroded rock. Just the sounds itself were exhilarating.
O is for Okavango Delta, Botswana
Picture the Florida Everglades with Hippos, Elephants and Zebras. Now surround that with a dry desert and you have the Okavango Delta. We’ve never experienced such rich sunsets as those in Africa, and those of the delta were some of the best in all of Africa. We paddled a Mokoro (canoe from hollowed out log) in the shallow water and stayed away from the deeper parts where the hippos hang out. It’s the only place in the world I can think of that you will see domestic cattle next to elephants, giraffe, and zebra.
P is for the Pyrenees Mountains, near Panticosa, Spain
The Pyrenees Mountains are high mountains that separate Spain from France. The micro-country of Andorra is also located here. The language is Catalan in the East and Basque in the Western part, but most people are multi-lingual who live here. Our first experience in these mountains was to walk from the spa town of Panticosa up to the divide, where we first set foot in the country of France. There was no-one at the top of the mountain to check our passports!
Q is for Quepos, Costa Rica
Quepos is located on the West Coast of Costa Rica and it the town you will likely make your base for exploring Manuel Antonio National Park. The park is chock full of wildlife, and the white-faced Capuchin monkeys will come out of the trees to accost you in hopes of being stealing food out of your backpack. Don’t be tempted to sleep on the beach as I did, unless you want iguanas running across your chest at night. Stay in one of the many motels in the area. But be sure to come out to see the sun set over the Pacific Ocean when you are there. Quepos narrowly beat out Quito, Ecuador; Queenstown, Maryland; and Queenstown, New Zealand to represent the letter Q.
R is for Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
A jewel of a beach town that I’ve known since childhood, Rehoboth Beach has now been discovered by the rest of the world. Although much more crowded than it used to be, it still has a charm about it. Forty years after planning a bicycle trip from my boyhood home in New Jersey to Rehoboth, we finally made the trip with a couple of high school friends a few years ago. The picture below is of a gift shop on Baltimore Avenue about a block from the beach, that once was the home of my great Aunt. I spent many nights in Auntie Coe’s warm home that she shared with her feline friends, when I was a young boy. She also had a talking Myna bird that would scream “I Can’t See” when you put a cover over its cage at night! Rehoboth was almost beaten out by Reine, Norway in the Lofoten Islands to represent the letter R. Although Reine is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, it couldn’t compete against a loquacious Myna bird and my Auntie Coe!
S is for Skellig Michael, Ireland
Nine miles off of the coast of Ireland lies Skellig Michael, a 1,500 year old monastery where Irish monks hid out during the time of the Viking raids on Ireland’s coastline. We were here before Luke Skywalker was, as it was featured in the Star Wars Film, “The Last Jedi”. While we had no trouble in booking a trip at that time, you should book well ahead, as the rest of the world knows about this special place after the Star Wars movie was filmed there in 2015. Skellig Michael- Before Luke Skywalker was there
T is for Tikal National Park, Peten, Guatemala
Tikal was an ancient Mayan city in the heart of the jungle in the Peten region of Northern Guatemala. It is one of the most important archaeological sites left by the Mayan civilization and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Howler Monkeys scream from the treetops as you walk through the ruins. The Mayans performed human sacrifices on the temple that you see behind us in the picture below. Their civilization lasted from about 700 B.C. to about 900 A.D and the architecture shows a highly complex civilization.
U is for Uzbekistan
During the Timurid Empire, what is now Uzbekistan used to be the center of the world. The Silk Road ran through here. Highlights include the Registan in Samarkand, which you can see in the picture below. I could’ve chosen Uruguay or Utah to represent the letter U, but Uzbekistan is a place that is even more UNIQUE! There are parallels between the history of Uzbekistan and my career as a geographer which I outlined in a post last year. Building a Bridge to Nowhere: My Career as an American Geographer
V is for Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
Victoria Falls is referred to as “the smoke that thunders.” It lies on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the Zambezi river cuts through a deep gorge (could’ve used any of these for the Z letter). There is a high bridge one can walk over to the Zambian side, or do bungee jumping from the bridge. We chose to walk to Zambia and take pictures of the younger, less sane members of our group as they leaped off the bridge with just a rope tied to their ankles. Kids these days!
W is for Walvis Bay, Namibia
Walvis Bay is a port city on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. It has one of the few harbors on the whole coast and is a mecca for flamingos as well as cargo ships. Walvis Bay beat out the likes of Wagontire, Oregon; Wanaka, New Zealand; Willimantic, Connecticut; and Washington, D.C. to represent the letter W.
X is for Xunantunich, Belize
X has to be one of the hardest letters to be able to complete the Alphabet Adventures challenge, unless of course you have spent a lot of time in China (which I have not), where most of the geographic names that start with X are found.
Xunantunich is a Mayan ruin in the western part of Belize, near San Ignacio. It is only about a mile from the main road linking Belize and Guatemala. We visited some ruins near San Ignacio with a guide, but I don’t remember taking the small ferry across the river to see it, since it was such a long time ago when we were there. Therefore, I can’t with 100% certainty that I have fulfilled visiting a place that starts with an X. I did drive close to Xenia, Ohio near Dayton. I THINK I’ve been to Xunantunich, but if not, then just try to sue me for only getting 25 letters of the alphabet!
Y is for Yachats, Oregon
We love all of the Oregon Coast, but Yachats on the Central Coast is our favorite place to hang out. It is small, quaint, and friendly. We stay at the Overleaf Lodge when we go and visit the beautiful natural features nearby such as Cape Perpetua, and Heceta Head Lighthouse. We try to make it over there once per year to smell the salt air and walk along the beaches and coastal trails. Highlights of Oregon’s Central Coast
Z is for Zanzibar
I first saw the beaches and electric blue waters of Zanzibar from 29,000 feet while flying from Dubai to Cape Town. Little did I know that I would be there on the ground a couple of years later. After the hustle and bustle of its largest city of Stone Town, where you can visit Freddy Mercury’s house and get lost in a maze of alleys, the tranquil beaches of Zanzibar’s coast are places where life moves very slowly. That was just what we needed at the time. It also has a lot of Muslim influence, given its proximity to the Arabian peninsula by sea. We really enjoyed our time there after the Kilimanjaro climb, which allowed Zanzibar to squeak out a narrow victory over Zion National Park in Utah to represent the last letter of our alphabet.
I hope you all enjoyed this Alphabet Adventures sojourn as much as I did reminiscing about these special places. But all places are much more valuable than being just a part of a checklist or a bucket list. The places and the people that we met in all of these locales are instrumental in shaping who we are. They also influence our perspectives about the world that we live in. The Alphabet Adventure is just a method for us to remember and appreciate some of them. Maybe I’ll do another one in a few years to recognize the silver and bronze medalists, knowing that some REAL SPECIAL places that are not well known may never, ever be published by me in order to protect them.