Machu Men

For middle-aged adventure-seekers, summitting Peru’s most famous peak can challenge their manhood, but also strengthen their bonds and handsomely reward their perseverance in the face of fear

MACHU PICCHU, Peru – You’re going to climb Huayna Picchu?!

Brimming with what would later prove unwarranted brazenness, I ignored the inherent trepidation in my Limeño amigo Martín’s repeated, almost incredulous prompts during the weeks preceding my first trip to his native Peru. I’m thankful today that I did, though, for had I been fully equipped beforehand with the knowledge Martín possessed, I might have beaten a cowardly retreat from one of my life’s most thrilling experiences.

See, I’m normally as prepared a traveler as you’ll ever meet. Whenever I’m planning to go somewhere – new or familiar – I hurl myself down a rabbit hole of exhaustive research, to include learning at least a handful of essential words and phrases in the local language. Yet, this time, I allowed a consequential kernel of truth to fall through the cracks.

To reach Machu Picchu, 8,000 breathtaking feet up in the Peruvian Andes, travelers can either take a train to the base and drive up, or go on foot, usually via the famous Inca Trail – an arduous, somewhat treacherous path popular among adventurous outdoor enthusiasts. Both options provide picturesque if perilous panoramas, the latter much more so, my research informed me.

Walking takes four or five days from sanctioned starting points, depending on which you choose. While the Inca Trail intrigued me, the group of 14 strangers with whom I’d be journeying was booked on the train/bus route, far quicker, more convenient, and less taxing on the body. Once there, though, we’d have the option of a half-day hike up to Huayna Picchu, the gigantic lemon squeezer of a mountain that photobombs every classic image of the ancient stone-and-terrace city. How could I resist?

Interpreting “hike” to mean a pleasant walk on a safe, spacious trail, I conducted no further investigation. Instead, I scoffed in response to Martín. “Of course I am. Sure. Why not? After all, I’m in good shape for a 40-something.” Meanwhile, my family kept pestering me to promise them I wouldn’t go “up that narrow mountain path, the one with the steep, tiny steps and nothing to grab onto.”

I honestly believed I wasn’t, because I assumed they meant the Inca Trail, which I knew for certain I wasn’t doing. Just turned out I had no clue that the way to the top of Huayna Picchu and this terrifying route my family kept mentioning were, in fact, one in the same. Not until I found myself on it, with nowhere else to go but up.
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In Tune with Ireland

The Emerald Isle strikes a chord with artist/ journalist Erik Scalavino,

who arrives searching for harmony – and departs on a high note

DUBLIN & ENNIS, Ireland – Although I’d never visited Ireland during my first 44 years, the mere idea of it managed to captivate me, what with its alluring landscape, literature, and legends.

Then, of course, there’s all that green – my all-time favorite color and the one inextricably linked with Ireland. Forever mysterious and magical, “The Emerald Isle” nonetheless always felt strangely familiar to me. Perhaps because of the music… Ah, yes, the music! I find Irish music’s distinctive, evocative sound irresistibly and hauntingly beautiful, suggestive both of the profound sadness imbued in Ireland’s history and the ultimately cheerful outlook shared by its present-day people.

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Amman means ‘Amore’

AMMAN – Try as you might, you won’t find cheese steaks or Rocky Balboa in this town, which the ancient Greeks called Philadelphia.

What you will find in modern-day Amman, capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, are Lego-like limestone dwellings, from which its nickname – the White City – springs. These predominantly impoverished neighborhoods tumble down from the city’s seven jebels (Arabic for “hills”) into Biblical-era archaeological sites like the well-preserved and still acoustically astounding Greco-Roman amphitheater.

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The Best Pictures I Never Took

Sometimes, our most memorable images are ones we choose NOT to photograph.

I absolutely LOVE photography, as you can plainly see here on my website. When I return from a trip with my camera, my likeminded friends always ask the inevitable, “How many pictures did you take?”

They’re often surprised by my answer, which might be a number much lower than they were expecting. As much as I want to get that quintessential shot – what photographer doesn’t? – I’m also determined to enjoy life’s most precious moments with my own two eyes, not just from behind the lens of my Canon.

Striking that desired balance is an art form in itself, I believe, and I’m constantly striving to master it. There are times, though, when I’ve found myself with the perfect subject in the most ideal conditions… and chosen NOT to snap the picture.

Here are three that come immediately to mind:

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Arrogance vs. Confidence

When you attend a New England prep school like St. Paul’s in Concord, New Hampshire, you become acutely aware of certain truths. Tradition, for instance. It can be both comforting and terrifying. The latter, because you sense the penetrating stares of those who’ve come before you, sometimes centuries before you, and can feel the weight of their expectations for you. The former, because once you’ve successfully followed in their footsteps, you join their august ranks.

One such tradition at St. Paul’s is the Chapel talk. It can be as intimidating a crucible as there is for any teenage student. You stand before the entire school — classmates, faculty, and the ghosts of alumni alike — in a soaring, neo-Gothic structure that looks as if it were uprooted from medieval Europe and transplanted in modern-day America: the Chapel of Sts. Peter and Paul. In this sublime space, you stand at the lectern and speak your mind, your voice echoing, it seems, directly to the Heavens. As you do, you fear not so much the judgment of the Almighty, but that of your potentially merciless peers.

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A Date with Lady Liberty

NEW YORK – I’m off the boat, just seconds into my Ellis Island visit, when I’m asked my first question.

“Would you mind?” begs the middle-aged man with the grey mullet and same colored tank top. He’s also inquiring with wide, eager eyes as he gently offers his digital point-and-shoot. He and the wife, he explains, are here from Covington, Ga., some 30 minutes outside Atlanta.

When you travel alone and carry a professional-quality camera, like I do, you get asked this frequently. It’s always a pleasure.

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Dreaming of a White (House) Christmas

WASHINGTON – Pennsylvania Avenue is pulsating with protests.

To the east, where New York Ave. stabs 15th Street from an oblique angle, police have cordoned off the intersection to automobile traffic, allowing demonstrators the freedom to fill the street from sidewalk to sidewalk. Their din mimics their behavior: chaotic and incoherent, like a crowded bar scene.

Luckily, I’m on foot as well and need go no further south. I make a right turn and the familiar, expansive plaza opens up to me. Ahead, a competing chorus of cacklers makes a more unified sound.


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Postcard from Ground Zero

NEW YORK – It has taken me 10 years to get here.

Ten long, lightning-quick, wonderful, frustrating, heartbreaking, joyous, grateful, revealing, tumultuous, transformative years.

I’ve visited New York City numerous times over the past decade, but events always precluded my returning specifically to lower Manhattan. Each time, I left the Big Apple with immense regret, my mission unfulfilled.

Next time, I’d vow.

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