"Home but Feeling Far Away" glabah's Profile

Going Overseas as a Volunteer, Meeting the Culture

About the Above Photo: Two weeks before this photo was taken, I had never met anyone in else in this photo before! Yet, when people now look at it they say "Nice Family" - even though only two people in this photo (one brother and one sister) are actually related. But, that is travel done properly! - Not just a visit to the monuments, but a true full impact cultural exchange where the people and the culture become part of you. If you really want to learn a culture, try volunteering there! This is truly a worldwide group, though most of the people in the photo are from Russia. We (a group of English speakers, with me being the only one from the region west of the Mississippi River in North America) spent a week and a half in Ivanovo, Russia. The ratio was kept to approximately two Russian speakers to on English speaker, and thus we all got to know eachother very well. The fact that, despite the huge cultural barriers in Russia to opening up to people from the outside, people now think they are looking at a family photo speaks volumes on that!

If you really want to get to know a culture, participate in a missions trip. That may sound crazy, but I think that it is true. Want to know about how difficult it can be to get concrete delivered in Bolivia? Try building a church there! Want to know if the Russian people are really as unemotional as the North American stereotype says, or even as they come across when meeting them incidentally on the street or being served at a restaurant? Try living with a group of them for two weeks at a church sponsored camp where you and their friends are the only ones around to talk to! Then, go visit the historic city of Souzdal together with them. Want to learn how to use an electric shower without getting killed? Try living with a Brazilian working class family for a few weeks.

Certainly, there are foreign exchange programs that allow a person to live in the home of a person for a year or so, and of course get a good idea of the culutre from the perspective of that one family. However, actually working with the national people as a group gives a much broader impression, and in a much faster way, than operating as a single person. Also, if you are working as part of a team, then you are not as likely to get homesick, as there are others around from your own culture that you can talk to in your own language as well as sympathize with.

To date, all of my true adventurous overseas trips have been done as part of short term church-related missions projects of some sort or another. After some of the experiences I have had on these trips, and then also experiencing one or two commercial tours of these places, and also trying to visit some of them on my own, I honestly would not have it any other way.

But isn't Missionary and Volunteer Service part of your Travels?
Yes, above I state that missions groups have been part of my travels. However, from time to time that has involved combining two different trips. My church was doing missionary service in Moçambique. I was part of that team, and I decided that I wanted to see more of Africa. Thus, after the church related team completed their two week term, I struck off on my own and visited a few places. After those experiences as well as guided tours, the volunteer trips were far more pleasurable, led to visiting more interesting and off-the-beaten-path places, and led to a better understanding of the people than any other method I tried.

See my Volunteer Travel Tip for more details.

The VirtualTourist Story and Me

In the early and mid 1990s, there was a computer program developed for the Macintosh that was called "MacWeather" which was specifically a stand-alone weather indicator. No need for a web browser and all the overhead required: all you needed was MacWeather and a neat little (and the key word here is LITTLE) window would be available to look at the weather indicators.

Eventually, the servers that program was designed to use became more and more centered around web based services and clients. More and more I found I needed a web browser to use them. Since MacWeather was set up to use Weather Underground, I also started using Weather Underground.

In 1998, I made my first trip to Brasil. I made many friends there, and after the trip I kept in contact with them. One of the questions that they always asked was "Isn't it cold in your city?" or "How is the weather there?". At one point in time, I therefore set up a web page with some links to various cities in the Weather Underground database to show that in fact, while it may be cold in Portland, Oregon there are many places in the USA that are colder.

During that time, I noticed links on the Weather Underground pages for a web site called "Virtual Tourist" and decided to take a look. At the time, this web site was still in its infancy and I thought "I will have to come back when I have something to add, but for me right now there is no sense in being a member of that site." At the time I didn't even consider the wealth of local information I had on my own home town!

In 2003, I finally decided to become a member here and to start adding some of my information. Some of this was because with some of the church related missions teams I had visited places and stayed in facilities that weren't on VirtualTourist yet. Also, I had to face the reality that I didn't have enough space on my personal web site to put all the stuff I wanted to put there, but many items were easily adaptable to VirtualTourist.

Another item that inspired me to join was that one of the top rated places with multiple tips in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant that had closed not long before my joining. I felt that I should join to try to help make tips about places more accurate, to the best of my abilities.

However, most of my early work was really hard to find. The VT tip ranking system in use at that time meant that it was very difficult to become noticed in places with lots of high ranking tips already. In early 2010, several people rated some of my work in Portland, and I suddenly my Portland page went from somewhere around the 200th ranked page to the top.

Today, the system has been completely rewritten so that newer tips are more likely to appear on travel guides.

Unfortunately, that came as I was sharpening my skills at writing about Seattle. I badly need to go back through and check what I wrote about Portland, and have done updates from time to time. Unfortunately I neglected that page for a while as I figured it would never get noticed.

New Additions and other Updates to These Pages

Speaking of updates and changes....

Upates and All That:
When I make significant changes or additions, I do try to remember to add them to the List of Recent Changes. VirtualTourist has a feature where you can see my most recent activity, but in a lot of cases it was just a forum posting or a photo I found in my collection of a place and decided to add it to a VirtualTourist page without making significant additions. So, the list of recent changes may look a bit out of date as it doesn't change very often, but that is because the most significant of the additions and alterations are being featured there only.

The photo represents the dirty work of maintaining VirtualTourist web pages: all the typing, the photo editing to fit the correct size, the waiting for the server at the other end to respond, and all that. It can be fun, but it can also take quite a bit of time if done correctly.

The photo was taken on a volunteer work team to work on a church in New Mexico, which benefits residents of the Navajo Native American Indian Reservation. Here, one of our team members (not me) is repairing a wall in the church. This photo also shows you why there are significant empty places in explaining how I wind up visiting some of the places I have visited: much of my most interesting travel has been volunteer service and not something your average traveler gets involved with, and yet can be a very fun part of travel just the same! Yet, as it really isn't tourist type travel it gets left out of the VT pages because the material isn't really relevant to general travel.

My work on my VirtualTourist pages isn't always obvious because sometimes it is just a matter of adding a few photos here and there. However, I have tried to do a little bit of something every day on my VT pages.

Also, you will notice that there are some places that have very few photographs, and a few others none at all. I visited many, many places before 1998, which was my first trip to Brasil. That trip was what first caused me to start trying to document my travels for others. Previous to then, I did all kinds of extensive travels, but have few photographs of them, as I was intent on enjoying the trip rather than trying to document things the next traveler might find helpful.

All Those Natural Wonders, and Other Things

I have a good appreciation for the natural world, and in many cases would rather be outdoors appreciating these things than doing activities indoors. Even when I am surrounded by concrete and steel (as seen here in Portland, Oregon) I have an appreciation for even the smallest of natural wonders that show through.

I am no expert at bird watching, but I certainly appreciate them and birds are what wildlife we typically get where I live. The rest of the animals have either been chased out of the city or are so secretive that it isn't seen very often.

To that end, take a look at some of the photos I have at these locations:

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in western Washington

William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge

But of course natural wonders go beyond wildlife, such as what you find at places such as

Iguaçu National Park in Brazil

or even nearby, such as found at

Silver Falls State Park

I was born in Portland, Oregon, USA. I have visited a number of places, but decided I like it here, and have so far stayed here. My family lived in Oregon City, Oregon for a while as well, and so I am quite familar with that city too.

I enjoy the outdoors, and such places as Portland's Forest Park and Council Crest and Powell Butte appeal to me a lot. As part of enjoying the outdoors, I enjoy many (but not all! - mosquitos and I still have our disagreements!) of the creatures that inhabit the outdoors. Therefore, I also like the Audobon Bird Sanctuary and Wildlife Care Center. Places where humans have figured out ways of making their lives compatible with local wildlife, such as Portland's Reed College Canyon or the Vaux Swift Chimney are always wonderful. Even places like the Rhododendron Garden are of some natural interest due to the amount of wildlife compatibility.

Many of the efforts of creative people are interesting to me, and so artistic features such as Ira's Fountain or Joan of Arc are interesting. Local art events such as Mount Tabor Art Walk and the annual Cracked Pots Garden Art Show are fun, and the Portland Art Museum usually has something interesting.

Speaking of museums, take a look across the South Park Blocks from the Art Museum at what the Oregon Historical Society and museum and book store is doing!

Oh! and history! Yes, I like certain history items too, such as the Great Oregon Steamup and the Pittock Mansion (which also has a wonderful view of Portland and beyond).

For a few of my other favorites near and far, please see my Personal Favorites page. Not everything is listed there, but you can get a good idea.

Places I Enjoy - Somewhat Further Away and Beyond

Though it is certainly not quick to get to, I have come to really appreciate the San Juan Islands, and in particular the natural beauty of the ferry trip over there.

These items, however, do not require a passport, or even much planning. I can wake up in the morning and say "I feel like going to...." and be there in an hour or maybe a few hours.

For the most part, the people in Brasil have been some of the most wonderful people I have met, and I really enjoyed Foz do Iguaçu. Since one of the international church related groups I have traveled with has a strong presence in Londrina and Maringá, I have been to those cities too. Curitiba definitely has a reputation as being a beautiful city, but I have spent far less time there.

Rio de Janeiro is, of course, one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world, and naturally Corcovado and its Christ the Redeemer statue are probably one of the most well known locations in the world. While the trip up to the statue by train is a well known tourist attraction, the lesser known Bonde Santa Tereza (Santa Tereza Streetcar) and its Streetcar Museum and Shops were also interesting places.

While Rio is an interesting and beautiful city, these large and hazardous cities are, to me, quite unpleasant due to the crime, traffic, and general attitude of the people. I don't think I could spend more than a few days in Rio at a time without going crazy.

Chobe National Park and Kruger National Park are, while still very popular tourist attractions, places that I also really enjoyed visiting. They are a much different environment than provided by large cities.

More recently, in August of 2008 a trip to Kenya provided a chance to visit Masai Mara. As usual with my more exotic trips this was a volunteer effort. Our church related group was visiting Oyugis, and visited Masai Mara on our way back to Nairobi.

All That Train Stuff

I have been interested in trains since approximately the age of 3, and still have a few of those old classic wooden toys that you can no longer find in stores at any sort of reasonable price. Some of my first VT work had to do with trains and railroads, and in 2003 I discovered that a missionary team was going to be visiting Brasil just after a railway enthusiest group was going to be visiting various railway locations there. Thus, I was able to sign up for both, combine trips, and use my money reasonably wisely. I wanted to share these photos with friends but had no space at all on my personal web site for doing anything like that. After considering my options, some of those photos got added to my VirtualTourist pages. So, there is a fair amount of railway related material on my VirtualTourist pages. At the time, I was very interested in drawing attention to some of these interesting preserved railways in Brasil, some of which receive very little international attention.

I live in Portland, Oregon and right now the closest operating tourist railroad is the Willamette Shore Trolley, which operates between southwest Portland and Lake Oswego.

Portland also has several steam locomotives, but those are very rarely used and in fact are not even stored in a location where the public can view them. It is only on special occasions they are allowed out of their house to roam around the countryside.

Further away from home, the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society operates the Oregon Electric Railway Museum which has some interesting stuff in the carbarn. Their entire operation is at Antiquie Powerland in Brooks, which is a complex of historic machinery museums.

My first contact with Brazilian railway preservation was in 2000 in Londrina, when I had the chance to visit two display railway passenger cars at the historical museum and a display steam locomotive at a plaza nearby. This caused me to do a little more research, and I discovered some interesting locations, but had no idea how to go about visiting them.

In 2001, I had my first taste of these interesting operations: I visited the ABPF steam railway in Campinas. I got a few more photos of this operation in 2003, but unfortunately even at that time urbanization was surrounding the railroad, making it a little hard to picture it as a step back in time.

To me, one of the most interesting operations is the Tiradentes 30 inch (760mm) gauge line which is a remnant of a once extensive narrow gauge railway line. Today, it only connects São João del Rei to Tiradentes. Both of these are historic Brasilian cities and provide a wonderful atmosphere for this preserved railway, and most of the locomotives are quite old. I have photos in São João del Rei and photos in Tiradentes and many photos I didn't put anywhere yet. I have boxes and boxes of 35mm slides from this little railway!

Rio de Janeiro has kept its Bonde Santa Tereza line running as the last remains of its once great streetcar system. It has its own Streetcar Museum and Shop as well. The more famous train in Rio is the electric Incline Railway to the statue of Christ at the top of Corcovado.

Another interesting electric railway in Brasil is the Estrada de Ferro Campos de Jordão, which runs between Campos de Jordão and Pindamonhangaba. I have some some photos in Campos de Jordão and some in the Pindamonhangaba introduction page and travelogue.

The Brasilian train trip that seems to have generated the most questions here on VirtualTourist is the Curitiba - Morretes - Paranagua train trip and the scenery certainly has a reputation. I rode it in January of 2002 and again in August of 2003 with slightly different equipment and timetables.

One of the more eccentric uses of historic railway equipment I have seen is the Gruçai resort adaptation of sugar cane railway equipment. It is a railway theme park of sorts.

For a few of my other favorites near and far, please see my Personal Favorites page. Not everything is listed there, but you can get a good idea.

>>>> Thank You Very Much For Visiting!!!

I'm always glad to see the page counter on these pages increase a little bit every now and then. It means that people are actually finding and (maybe!) reading what I have written. If there is a particular item that you find interesting please let me know. Also, if you have any complaints, compliments or other comments please let me know.

My virtualtourist account is set up to receive e-mail from outside, so if you don't want to become a virtualtourist member you can still send e-mail to me here.

Happy Travels and Godspeed to you and I hope that what I have provided here has been of some assistance to you in some way.

  • Intro Updated Aug 28, 2013
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