Deep in the darkest, densest, most inaccessible region of the Central African Republic, among a tribe of isolated Bayaka pygmies, Joe Horton and his wife, Sandra Morrison, were feasting on a dinner of tadpoles, grubs and macerated manioc root.
Macerated, in this instance, means pre-chewed by an elder female member of the tribe.
Clean drinking water is precious, although bathing water is slightly more plentiful. The couple calls this “vacation.”
This trip provided Horton and Morrison with an opportunity to live among the pygmies for two weeks and to join in the tribe’s daily activities, including hunting and gathering excursions, birth and death customs and manhood rituals. It was just one of many highly colorful travel experiences that have come to define the couple’s way of life. Both are social-work consultants with a passion for travel, and in particular, for learning about and living among some of the world’s most primitive tribal people.
“My father died when he was only 50 years old,” says Horton, who with Morrison has circumnavigated the globe besides taking trips to many of the world’s most exotic and far-flung locations. “I realized then that it is important to follow your heart and do the things that you want to do in life. Not to put anything off.”
Today the two divide their time between homes in Michigan and Oklahoma, as well as spending several months a year on their 42-foot trawler docked on Marco Island .
The two are also members of the Naples chapter of the Circumnavigators Club, an international organization founded in the United States in 1902 to bring together travelers who have circumnavigated the globe. Now more than 100 years later, the Club boasts a roster of fascinating and highly spirited past and present members, including President William Howard Taft, Neil Armstrong, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, John Philip Sousa (who wrote the club’s march) William Jennings Bryan, Henry Houdini, James A. Michener.
“The Circumnavigators Club isn’t a travel agency,” says Horton, who adds that a non-profit, Africa-centered humanitarian organization by the name of TurtleWill helped him and Sandra organize their African excursion. “The Club’s purpose is to give people with a true passion for adventure and exploration an opportunity to meet other like-minded people and a forum for intellectual exchange.”
According to Tom Maher, president of the Naples chapter of the organization, the goal of the Circumnavigators Club is to foster global fellowship and understanding, and to encourage people to experience and absorb as much as they can about the world.
“Our members love travel for the pure joy of exploration and the broader world-view it provides,” says Maher. “There is no better way to learn about and understand the multitude of people, politics and customs of this world than to see them first hand.”
He adds that the Circumnavigator’s officially stated purpose is: “Through fellowship, to leave the world a little better than we found it.”
Membership in the Circumnavigators Club is open only to individuals who have traveled completely around the world. In order to be considered, prospective members are asked to trace their travel route on the Club’s application form. The route must cross all of the meridians of longitude in one direction, in order for the person to qualify. At present, the organization has approximately 1,000 members, with chapters in 14 countries.
Rough or ready
It is important to note that “roughing it,” as Horton and Morrison choose to do on their journeys, is not a condition of membership. Circumnavigators Club member Phyllis Mueller has traveled around the world three times by private jet, seeing different sights and enjoying varying experiences on each trip.
“I have ridden camels in Mongolia as well as in the Arabian Desert,” says Mueller, who has organized many of her excursions through Travcoa, a luxury travel company specializing in private and custom adventures. Like most of the other Club members, Muellers’ love of travel comes from a profound desire to learn about and better understand the world’s varying cultures.
“Once you have actually been to Haiti or China or Cuba, for example, and you’ve met the people for yourself, it is impossible feel prejudice, or not to care deeply when you hear of a devastating hurricane or a conflict that affects the population. Travel makes the world seem smaller and it helps you to feel more connected to all of the people in it,” she says.
Mueller has her own leopard, a rescue animal named Sir William that she houses at the Kawaiachobee Animal Shelter in Naples, and she feels a particular love for animals and gravitates toward travel destinations that enable her to view wildlife. Among her many adventures was a gorilla-trekking excursion in Rwanda. “It was utterly remarkable,” said Phyllis, who adds that a typical trek lasts from half-an-hour, to a little over an hour, depending on the wildlife in the area that day.
“I and a handful of other explorers followed our guide straight up the side of a volcano to a site fairly deep in the jungle where the gorillas live in family groups. Our presence didn’t seem to bother them, however the males especially, showed their teeth in warning if any of us got too close.” Mueller adds that she was saddened to learn of a female gorilla in the area whose hand was taken by poachers.
“I didn’t see her, says Mueller, “but others in our group did. We learned that poachers commonly take, dry and lacquer the gorilla’s hands and sell them as ashtrays,” she said.
Not all has changed
Jill and Robert Augustine are Circumnavigators who did a great deal of their traveling as a result of Robert’s career with AT&T. In 1977, the company was hired by the Shah to upgrade the Iranian telecommunications system, and Robert was assigned to work directly with the Iranian top military on the project.
“Iran was a beautiful, friendly and fascinating country,” says Jill Augustine, who joined her husband in Iran later that year with their two teenage children, Marc and Paige, who were then 16 and 15.
During their time there, Jill taught English classes at the Tehran Language Institute where one of her students was the famed fighter, Mohammed Ali.
“At that time, women weren’t required to wear a veil and were encouraged to work outside the home,” says Jill Augustine. “They could divorce their husbands and had rights of inheritance,” she says.
Of course, all of that was soon to change. Later that year, Iran was literally burning with riots and demonstrations by fundamentalists’ intent on bringing Iran back under strict Sharia law.
By Christmas time, Jill Augustine and the children, were calmly, but decisively, evacuated from the country. Robert Augustine followed soon after, just months before the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis.
Last year, just over 30 years since their first visit to Iran, the Augustines returned to the country that they had once so enjoyed, for a reunion with old friends there.
“So much had changed since our first visit,” says Jill. “The population of Teheran had more than tripled, and of course there is now a strict dress code for even foreign women traveling within the country. I was required to cover my head and hair, my legs to below the ankles and my arms to below the wrists. There were also some anti-US murals and slogans.
“However, the warmth, friendliness and exceptional hospitality of the people of Iran remains unchanged. From the moment we arrived, we were made to feel at home welcome,” she says.
Jill also adds that despite the strict new laws, the women they met during their visit were lively and beautiful and families were close and filled with hope for the future.
“Despite the differing cultural norms from place to place, people are people where everyou go. To me, that is the greatest lesson of travel. No matter what country we visit, that is always the main lesson that I take away.”
To learn more about the Circumnavigator’s Club, contact Tom Maher at email@example.com.