Ian McHenry – Bermuda

This summer I had the pleasure of visiting that tiny, beautiful tax haven in the middle of the Atlantic: Bermuda.

A good friend of my fiancee was getting married and I had always been fascinated with remote islands (see: sailing around Asia). Bermuda was always this waypoint for early sailors from Europe headed to the New World. Unsurprisingly, it was founded when one of those ships crashed into one of its numerous outer reefs and the survivors created a colony.

The island is small and continues to have a strong British influence, despite its proximity to the US (only a 2 hr flight from New York). Only locals are allowed to drive cars (i.e. no Hertz rental desk at the Bermuda airport) and they are only allowed one car per household, unless it’s a taxi. For this reason, there are a lot of taxis. The streets are extremely narrow and single-lane. If you want to get around on your own, you rent a moto scooter.

Downtown is split between tourist shops and billion-dollar reinsurance companies. We took a little self-guided walking tour of both.

My fiancee was mostly excited that there were street chickens. She loves street chickens. I think it’s simply their association with tropical countries because she definitely doesn’t like the chickens in our neighbor’s backyard in San Francisco.

The outer reefs mean, unfortunately, that surfing is limited. However, when the right swell comes in, it can get exciting. Luckily, a little swell came in and I was able to get a little bit in, taking off from an exposed coral bombie.

All-in-all, a fascinating little country.

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Ian McHenry – Australia

It was snowing when I arrived in Australia. My dad had taken a position at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, for a semester as part of his sabbatical.  He was there to learn about the New State Movement, an attempt by the New England portion of NSW to form a new state.  I was there to learn how to fight.  We both succeeded.

We lived in a small apartment in Armidale.  We hung our laundry on one of those rectangular clotheslines.  And we huddled by the space heater to stay warm during those first months of winter.  Having flown from the warm weather of California’s summer, stopping briefly in Molokai, I was not exactly prepared.  I had never lived in a place that received snow.  My first day of school, I wore a hooded sweatshirt under a winter jacket.  I hadn’t figured out that you are supposed to let the hood hang over the outer coat, and thus walked around with a prominent hump on my back.  This did not go unnoticed by my second-grade classmates at Drummond Elementary School, who asked (mockingly, I wrongly assumed) what that hump was;  to which I snapped, “YOU have a hump on your back.”  Later that day I would realized what they were talking about and quickly adjusted my style.  I quickly learned that Aussie boys are much freer with their fists than American kids;  there was no bullying like back home, just perfectly normal fist fighting.

Between receiving my first torn shirt and bloody lip and the daily games of Aussie Rules Football, I quickly learned to stand up for myself.  This served me well on the Aussie playground, and was one of the things (along with a slight Aussie drawl) that I carried back with me to California.  I had been bullied for years by a certain M. Felix (I did wear glasses and thrift store clothes, so I can’t blame the guy).  The first time he tried to rough me up in the hallway back at Sycamore Elementary, I promptly turned on the Aussie in me and I decked him.  It earned me a trip to the principal’s office and my freedom from years of torment – a fair trade.  My mother had to explain that I had gone native in Australia and was still not re-acquainted with the pacifism of our no grades, hippie elementary school.

At Drummond, I quickly tried to integrate myself.  I purchased the ever popular flap hat to keep the hot Aussie sun off my neck, I developed a penchant for meat pies from the school cafeteria, I took the bus to school for the first time in my life, donning my first ever school uniform.  And, true to character, fell for the cute blonde girl at school.  The height of our imaginary romance was being invited over to her house to bounce on her over-sized trampoline (another first).

Before returning home way took a trip to Byron Bay, where I boogie boarded, Sydney, where I saw the Opera House and walked across the Bay Bridge, and finally up to Cairns.  This is where my father ruined snorkeling for me for the rest of my life, until I made it to Southeast Asia.  We went on a day-long trip out to the Great Barrier Reef and it was one of those experiences you always remember.  I had never seen anything like it, and the memory of skirting the reefs and bouncing from tiny atoll to tiny atoll would stick with me and lead me to return to the area 20 years later to sail.  I encountered the friendly local sunfish, a huge creature that met the boat knowing a treat from the crew awaited.  I had a couple tiger sharks swim several meters beneath me in a canyon, as I turned and made for shallower water, where stunning soft coral swayed back and forth with the waves.  My father became my instant hero when he dove down and stuck his fin in the mouth of a giant oyster, only to have it slam shut, momentarily trapping him underwater before he could wiggle free.  This gigantic, open aquarium made my afternoons petting hermit crabs and starfish at the Long Marine Lab seem like, well, child’s play.

Snorkeling through a reef is one of those experiences I think every young child should enjoy.

Besides the warm weather, playing pool with my dad at the hostels, and quietly judging the fat, singlet wearing Aussie men guzzling Toohey’s beer in the common room, the stay in Cairns was memorable but short.

At some point we made our way south, a trip that I remember

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Ian McHenry: Tanzania

When: June 1986 – January 1987
Why: Dad’s sabbatical
Countries visited: Tanzania, Kenya

When I was only three, my mom and dad moved to Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania for 6 months as part of my dad’s sabbatical.  He taught at the University of Dar-es-Salam.  I played on the beach a short walk from our room at the Hotel Africana.  I made friends with the other permanent residents of the “hotel”, animal and human alike.  The hotel was home to a lion, outside whose cage was a cautionary sign:  “Beware of falling coconuts.”  Other residents included an African crane and some peacocks.

There was an incredibly tall coconut palm tree outside our room.  Every once in a while a man would climb up to the top and retrieve the coconuts when they were ripe and before they bopped some unsuspecting three-year-old on the head.

On the beach, huge crabs would come out at night and scamper across the sand.

I remember very little of the food there, except for the omelettes with ketchup at the hotel restaurant and the soft serve ice cream shop across the street.  It being equatorial Africa, eating these required incredible skill and speed with one’s tongue to not waste a precious, delicious drop.

I also remember my weekly malarone pill.  At that age, I was unable to swallow the acrid tasting pill.  To solve this problem, my parents stuck the large pill inside a tootsie roll, which I would eat one bite at a time, tossing pillows and screaming “ow-meow” between bites.  Luckily I grew out of this obnoxious coping mechanism.

We took some trips while living there.  We visited the Serengeti, where I saw my first big game.  Most tamely watched our open air vehicle pass.  The elephants, however, flared their ears and made it known that our presence was not appreciated.

We visited a friend of my father’s who took us around his plot of land, picking the most delicious tropical fruits I had ever tasted straight from the trees and offered them to me to eat directly.

We went to Kenya for Christmas.  Santa found us there and I sat on his lap.  The fact that he was black did not seem out of place to me at that age.

Our return trip home took us from the heat of Tanzania to the bitter cold of London in January…

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