Sunday, December 27, 2015

What We Miss - Inside the Mind of a Long-Term World Traveler

Tacloban Seaside

When traveling far from home for extended periods of time, it's normal for even the most seasoned traveler to have things that he misses. Usually, we find substitutes to fill the void, but ideally the new experiences are so fulfilling that there just isn't time to miss much. In my current position, I have been able to interview many travelers from different countries. In addition to the queries regarding what makes them tick, I usually add on the question, "What do you miss about home?"

I can remember on past trips, we would all sit around and share those answers, maybe directly related to some deficit in our then current situation, but usually they were all very specific things, all something we all could relate to, and all put a smile on each of our faces to imagine. Digging a well in 100 degree heat in Malawi, we tried to be content with the little things, but someone had to mention something as usually commonplace as "ice." We all stopped to think about the miracle of ice for a moment. Then we dared to go a step further and imagine "pina colada!" Now of course that was directly related to an extreme circumstance, but a lot about travel is relatively extreme in one way or another.

Now, the people I have been interviewing actually surprise me. Besides the standard "my parents," "my dog," and "my bed" answers, most of my interviewees have very little comment on the subject - many with kind of a blank look in their eyes. All of these people are volunteers with an NGO, and most are in their early twenties, so I'm guessing they are just so excited to be out and free or there are many whom I can tell are long-term travelers precisely because they don't want to be at home, and some even show disdain. Furthermore, with a near free-flow of internet connectivity these days, your internet reality travels with you wherever you go, so there is less reality reality to miss!

I don't know, but everywhere I am, I miss some other place. From past experiences, I know others feel the same way. Usually it's a food item; sometimes it's a steak, good beer, In 'N Out Burger, Prosciutto di Parma - something very specific. Other times it is an event - 4th of July and Thanksgiving are tough times for Americans to be abroad. I'm not even a huge sports fanatic, but I still get goosebumps seeing an NFL game on in Prague or an NBA playoff game in the Philippines. In talking recently with a fellow American, who has been gone longer than I have, we both agreed we missed the certain chill in the air that autumn (usually) brings or something as simple as a sofa and a warm blanket. Of course we miss our families, and though we may not be in contact much, we really enjoy seeing photos of Tae Kwon Do practice or silly videos that would otherwise soon be deleted. At the beach, we might miss the snow, and in a remote landlocked location we probably miss the ocean.

Perhaps it's a function of where we have been and lived - what attachments we have made, what we have tasted, what we have seen, and whom we have known. Does the person who has traveled to one hundred countries miss more than the one who has never left the island of her birth? Is that why as soon as we get home we start planning our next trip? Or is it just that we are not content? Perhaps the world is so captivating, that we seek out new places, people, and experiences despite what we miss, because we know the deprivation will be worth it.

If we would miss something enough, does that mean we would never leave? Not sure, but I'll let you know if I ever find out.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Project - A Walking Amadeus Video Expedition Around the World

I suppose there are two types of travelers - those who try to get away and those who try to get somewhere. Sure, the categories are not mutually exclusive, and different trips have different aims, but sometimes people who love to travel the world get painted with the broad brush that they are simply wandering, shirking the responsibilities of "real life." Well, I'm no hippie.

I'll confess, I do have a rather laid-back way about me, but it is important to note, the now underway video project with the same name as this blog - Walking Amadeus - is a dedicated expedition with certain goals and a purpose. I take my motivation from a woman from my Shoshone tribe, Sacajawea, (you may have heard of her). She was compelled to join Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery and ended up acting as an integral part of their success as a guide and interpreter. She helped us discover parts unknown, and she did so courageously. She didn't go where none had before, nor did she test the bounds of science, but she certainly facilitated human exploration.

Walking Amadeus - the video project and the blog - seek to serve a similar purpose. In travel, we encounter new ideas about the world. We pick up where others have left off and add knowledge to knowledge. Ideas, points of view, passions of people a continent away are indispensable to a world in which a lack of enlightenment can lead to chaos on a grand scale. In my country, I see children of all colors playing together. It is not until they are taught that they are different that the seeds of racism are sewn. Then those of us who care to, spend the rest of our lives trying to reconcile our contrived differences. It's madness, and it's the same on the world stage, only it's more difficult for an American to hang out with an Iranian or a North Korean and get to know their stories. I may not find myself in either of those two countries anytime soon, but hopefully some great stories are out there, and I intend to document them.

Those who know me well, know that my project will also not lack for a certain sense of humor; I actually don't know how you can travel at length without one. Furthermore, my interests in all things culinary will lead to discoveries of food and beverages, and the photographer in me will seek out certain beauties that may have nothing to do with anything else. I have also studied economics; not sure if that will make itself evident.

Taking all of this into account, I plan to venture from California, to Hawaii, to The Philippines, to many parts of Asia en route to Africa, then up through Spain, into France, up to Ireland, and back to the US. Travel plans are somewhat flexible, just because I know things always change and I will need to be able to respond to that. Videos will be posted on YouTube and can be found by seeking the Walking Amadeus channel. One goal of this project is that it be interactive and influenced by the viewers. My director and I can both be reached by email at, and you can be a part of my journey as well. Otherwise, I will be mostly solo - traveling and shooting.

Thank you for your interest, and I look forward to your suggestions.

Special Thanks to:

Ryan Connolly - my editor and director
Rich Delos Reyes - musician extraordinaire

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Unfinished Business - Directions of Life and Travel Intertwined

In all the journeys a man might make, the most profound might actually be the one he didn't start. Every president gets asked about his legacy, and it usually pertains to what he did in the up to eight years he spent in the White House and how those decisions and actions portend some major consequence on the the future of the country or the world. Some people yield a tremendous influence, and that is more easily ascertained (or magnified) by the position they held or the fame they enjoyed for a time. However, the effects of the lives of others is often more subtle and uncelebrated, and what they achieve resonates in reincarnation. If for some reason what we do in life echoes for eternity, but no one writes books about us, it could very well be because someone else carried our torch.

I recently read something by a grieving widower of a friend of mine. I could tell the wound was still fresh, and he seemed a bit lost. When you lose someone close to you, there are the sincere, yet predictable, attempts to provide you with some sort of solace: "If there is anything I can do...", "she's in a better place now", "you are in my prayers"... etc. No one can fault people for the unoriginality of these statements; nobody knows the right thing to say, and odds are there is nothing you can say to help the bereaved feel some comfort during the aftermath of their loss. You're just trying to be a good friend, and really, that may be the best you can do. However, what struck me on this occasion was something that has become evident in the last year or so, in that those who pass on before us live on in what we do in their honor - because we are finishing what they started.

Life masks these kinds of truths in our youth, mostly because we are thinking primarily about ourselves. However, somewhere along the line we gain something called "perspective", which is a byproduct of wisdom. The clarity of a situation often does not present itself until the end; any moment of truth is the result of culmination, not prediction or snap judgment. Sadly, someone's value is not always appreciated until they are gone; then we are left with the context of a world without them. It is the void, the loss, or the failure that informs and instructs us on how to carry on - that is, if we choose to learn.

Every endeavor needs clarity; without is mere frivolity. Therefore, it is imperative that we recognize when we are called upon to contribute to a legacy - to help someone else live forever. It is then that we realize that we are not victimized by others leaving us, but blessed that they were ever there in the first place. If they were that special, then they bestowed something very profound, which is the gift of a challenge to finish the job they left. Like I told my friend's husband whom she left here on Earth, what's left to do after losing someone so magnificent, so young, is, "now, you have to be awesome for her." And, we go back and make whatever that is happen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Malawi - Digging In and Meeting Africa

If you asked me where Malawi was one year ago, I would have gotten the Africa part right, but that's about it. Can I really be blamed? There are 54 African nations, or so I'm told, and many of us in the US really only hear about the ones with ebola or where there are very bad things happening. As usual, when traveling internationally and spending time with other young English-speaking travelers, they take their shots at us - for example: "Why did God create wars? So that Americans could learn geography."

Well, Malawi has neither an epidemic disease, nor is it involved in civil, or any other type of, war. There is no refugee crisis, no genocide, no pirates, and no "spontaneous demonstrations" leading to diplomatic assassinations of Americans. Malawi is just one of those countries that exists without international fanfare or notoriety... and there are a great many people who are just really nice. Even today, in Blantyre, shooting the last of my footage for the project here as the sun began to set, curious people just walked by and said hello. I am a bit jaded and always think that they want something (and sometimes they do), but a lot of people here just want to... I don't know... recognize another human and give them a greeting. Strange, I know - kind of like the Carolinas of Africa.

What Malawi did have was a very big flood - big enough to permanently displace a lot of people up into the hills and make life even harder for some people who have to figure out a way to survive on producing a variety of crops you could probably count on your two hands. I was fortunate to be able to spend several evenings chatting with our neighbor while on project with All Hands Volunteers down in Muona, near the Mozambique border. Patrick was his name, and it seemed he was just as curious about me and my life as I was about him and his. He inquired as to what crops we grow (umm, everything) and I asked him about their food; when I questioned him about the availability of beef, he explained that cows provide too little meat to justify eliminating their relative value as a dairy source. In rural Malawi, you can't help but be cognizant of your food sources. There is no supermarket. If you want meat, you help a chicken or a goat meet its maker. So, the people's ability to continue to grow maize, tomatoes, mangoes, sweet potatoes, onions, bananas, green beans, and a few other crops is, in a word, crucial. We, as an organization (All Hands Volunteers), decided to come in and help them dig wells, and give these people the tools to not only survive, but hopefully thrive.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Remembering Dad on his 83rd Birthday

The following was my eulogy for Dad, nearly one year ago. I hesitated to post it, because it focuses on me and my brothers, but in the end, I think it is a good way to memorialize him:

Last time I did this, I balled like a little girl, so I had the foresight to have a relief pitcher [Jason Doty] in the bullpen, so if someone finishes for me, things are still going according to plan.

I'd venture to say not many knew my dad well; he was not incredibly social and enjoyed a certain amount of privacy. Many in attendance here today may actually know one of his sons much better. So, in preparing my remarks for today, I remembered something a good friend of mine, Lou, told me back in DC - "Mark, you have to have kids, because they are the key to your immortality." So, I told him, "fine, find me a wife." But, upon further review, I think the best way to memorialize my dad may be in the lives of his sons. If you have truly made your mark on people - on who they are - you have bestowed a unique and magnificent gift to the world. I have believed for some time now that the definition of a man is he who lives his life for someone else… as a father, a husband, in the military… etc. Therefore, it is appropriate to remember Gary Porter specifically for what he gave his sons.

Let's start with me (Mark): One of Dad's great joys was feeding us and our friends; I have been feeding people for half of my life in 17 different restaurants, on international trips, and in my own home. Dad coached baseball and soccer for decades; I have continued that tradition in soccer and football. Dad taught that persistence pays, and you should always delight in others; these lessons are key to who I am.

Throughout Dad's treatment for cancer, his optimism seldom wavered; anyone who knows Brian would agree his optimism borders on recklessness. I think his motto in the tank in Iraq was, "What could possibly go wrong?" Brian is a dedicated father who used to fly Alicia out to San Bernardino from Arizona for weekends not just to uphold his duty, but because he wanted to be an active participant in his daughter's life; Dad was the same way. Brian stands up for what he believes, sometimes a bit too vigorously, as in the case of the "Celebrities Incident" with the bouncer; Dad took his employer to court - and won - to put his foot down for racial equality. Brian has lived a life of service as a builder of things - houses, office buildings… a casket - as well as in the US Marine Corps. Dad was a big believer in service as well.

Both Tom and Dad are known for their assertive natures. Neither can be said to have been shy about what they believed to be true. Tom and Dad have been historians, often reaching to the past to inform the present. Perhaps most important, Tom, in the past eight years has transformed into a father who celebrates his girls and strives to give them every opportunity this world allows (except riding public transportation). Dad, I'm sure, was quite proud.
Interestingly, all of Gary Porter's boys are conservative, hard-working, strong-willed, and have a certain philosophy of "what is understood doesn't need to be discussed."

So, when you see these things in the Porter Boys, know that Gary Porter did live for others, and he made his mark on the world through us. If we in turn live well and pass these things on to others, our dad will truly live forever.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Many Hands in Kathmandu - Volunteer Life in Nepal

I didn't take a lot of photos in Kathmandu, but here are a few with my All Hands team.

Me and Ritika

Our Project Director Gary's Birthday

April Leaving Town

Very Proud of Our Creation

One of Our 50 Homes Hand-Overs


Ready to Head Home


Wire Team Crew and Beneficiary on My Last Day

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Saree, Not Sari-Sari - Kathmandu, Nepal

We're not in the Philippines anymore. That seemed to be the theme of a conversation I had with a friend in Kathmandu I had met in Tacloban the other night. I haven't been here long enough to make any kind of judgments about this place, but it is certainly a different world. Philippines is far from perfect, as is my home country; it's not about perfection. As a long-term traveler, what we seek is a place in which we enjoy being. "Being" is the important word, because some places are stops along the way that draw no attachment, while others entice us to stay for a while and re-join normal life for some period of time. On these types of multi-country, multi-city journeys, life as you knew it mutates into a constant state of fluctuation - juggling sight-seeing with personal safety, cultural propriety, and your personal budget. If you can find a place where you can be your best photographer, writer, volunteer, honorary local, well, that's something unique.

Arriving at night is usually the worst way to do it. Bad things happen at night; it leaves you more vulnerable, and it's more difficult to find your way when you are your most ignorant of a new place. Luckily, I arranged for my hotel to send a driver to the airport. First impressions are always tough at night, because the morning light often produces a completely different scenario. Interestingly, my first impressions of Nepal started on the flight here. Several passengers had their cell phone cameras out shooting videos all over the plane - even up in the face of one of the flight attendants. The guy next to me stared conspicuously at my computer screen as I looked through some photos and tried to get some writing done. Seconds after landing, all of the seat belts on the aircraft clicked open, and everyone got up to open overhead bins at 100 mph. Upon arrival at the airport, the man processing my visa lied to me about not accepting credit cards before relenting. The man at the money exchange desk threw my ringgits back at me after I challenged him on the discrepancy between my receipt and the rupees I had received. It suffices to say, I was skeptical of what was going down in this country. It should also be said that in contrast, I encountered several people who were quite gracious and helpful - even forwardly friendly!

However, I know well enough that it requires some time to understand what is the truth of a particular location. It's not Tacloban, it's not Singapore, and it certainly isn't Lahaina. What is Kathmandu? We'll just have to wait and see, now won't we. For now, I'll just dodge the random spitting, try to find some water that isn't "processed" (maybe what is upsetting my stomach), watch to not get hit by cars and motorcycles on the wrong side of the street, and avoid the aggressive monkeys and vendors. Oh, yeah, and learn some Nepali. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blessed With Smiles in Tacloban - Discovering the Philippines

Sunset View from Our All Hands Volunteer Base in Tacloban
Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Blessed are the patient; they shall inherit the land. Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful; they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart; they shall see God.
Matthew 5: 3-8

I won't pretend to be your travel guide to a small city you've never heard of in the Philippines. You're not going to go there. Truthfully, I may not have ever made it to the country if I hadn't been called upon to work there. This is not meant as a discourtesy, it simply had not been on my agenda. That being said, Tacloban, for me, was ultimately a profoundly charming residence for more than two months of my life.

Downtown Tacloban by the Water
Situated in the northeast of the island of Leyte in the Eastern Visayas of central Philippines, Tacloban is neither terribly small nor relatively remote, having a population of about 200,000 and its own regional airport - comparable to my hometown, except you can actually use their airport (another story for another day). Tragically, in November of 2013, the powerful Typhoon Haiyan raged through Leyte and neighboring Samar. Violent wind and rain were followed by massive flooding, and deaths were in the thousands - official toll was 6,201, but estimates insist it was much worse.

A "Trike" can sometimes transport up to six passengers
Eighteen months later, I arrived to contribute to
the rebuilding efforts already long underway by All Hands Volunteers. At first glance, this was a dusty seaside town bustling with small roadside shops, jeepneys and modified motorcycle taxis, and people of all ages walking to and fro. Bake shops, pineapple vendors, and mechanics were at work. Mothers were busy scrubbing the laundry in the dirt paths between modest homes of scrap metal and wood. The scent of coconut charcoal grilling pork and various chicken innards was everywhere. The city was certainly back on its feet to the extent that it was apparently no longer
a disaster zone. However, one should not make the mistake to think - as is so easily the conclusion after news of a disaster is lost in the long shadow of time - that all was back to normal.


But what is normal for these people? It was something to which I gave much thought while there. What did homes look like before the storm? Did people have different jobs that are no longer available? How many family members and neighbors exist now only in the memories of those remaining, leaving a void I will never feel? These are the questions I did not want to ask. Some volunteered information, but I imagined many had things they just didn't want to revisit. I can only tell you that life goes on despite the storm, but as evidenced in their stories, and even still referenced at church services, there is still great loss and a reality that cannot forget.

I was lucky to have met some fine people in the barangay (district) where I did most of my work as well as in other parts of the city. In getting to know them, I was made some great discoveries without asking the invasive questions. One phenomenon I noticed during my stay was the magnificent smiles - from the kids walking to school, from the neighbors as I passed through from site to site, from the girls in the bake shop. Coming from a country and a life with so much, you realize just how silly "first world problems" really are in their proper perspective. However, still I considered - how is it that a people who have suffered through such a tragic event, many of whom seem to have very little, live with such delight and strength?

"God" has entered the discussion on more than one occasion. While many in my country seem to be trying their darndest to banish Him, I believe He may have sought refuge in the Philippines. Many Filipinos appear to be strengthened by their faith, and as a result, they feel blessed.

When Iries' eyes are smiling

Next, a word "content" appears to be quite relevant. My friend Iries explained to me that she is happy because she is content. The words appear similar, but they can be quite different. Her claim got me to thinking, because in my world back home, being content can be equated with lack of ambition. In the American model, one who is content will never break down barriers or accomplish the greatest heights. Content means letting grass grow under your feet. However, in the Philippine model, being content is the satisfaction of being grateful for what you have in life, rather than what you don't. Iries finds joy and contentment from being a mother. You can see it in her eyes, and it is the kind of happiness we should all be so lucky to have.

Susie (made me sisig!) with husband and daughter Jamie

Finally, back to the issue of "normal," I was fortunate to be invited into several homes during my stay - with a friend and her family, with people from the community in which we worked, and even in the home of strangers, just because I commented on hearing karaoke emanating from inside the house. In each instance, I was offered food and drink and was treated as a guest of honor. I think that must be normal for these people, and I like it! In my own experience inviting people into my home - even when I don't have much to offer - treating people to that level of esteem and offering a bit of yourself provides a special kind of dignity not easily found elsewhere.

The most difficult part of world travel is that you inevitably have to say goodbye to the people who help enchant your stay. Working in Tacloban is not your average construction site. Locals work alongside you, family members watch your work and sometimes bring you pancit noodles, baked goods, fruit, or cold soft drinks, and small children play all around where you are trying to carry heavy lumber and sacks of cement. We were a part of their world. They were what made ours bearable, and at times joyous. Thanks for opening your hearts and homes to us, friends of Tacloban. I wish you all the grace and happiness you deserve, that future storms pass you by, and that you always keep those magnificent smiles.

Allan! Jeepney driver and friend

Two of our lovely three bake shop girls

Hey, what's your name?!

Nancy and family hosted some great break-time meals

Kids from the barangay belting out the tunes

Gladiator Team attending the official hand-over of an All Hands home

Monaliza's voice was always music to my ears

Melvin - one of our jeepney drivers and friend

Josh's birthday, complete with videoke - I didn't know anyone there, but was ushered in to join the fun

To find out about All Hands Volunteers projects around the world, please visit:

What I planned to say... - Goodbye Message from Project Leyte, Philippines

It was a long day. Indeed, it was a long stay in Tacloban and the Philippines - longer than anywhere I had stayed outside of the United States. It was the end of the meeting where departing volunteers share some sort of farewell with the crew. I had some wisdom planned to impart, but all I could muster was a thank you. Short and to the point? Yes, but here is what I wanted to say, more or less, to my friends of All Hands Volunteers - Project Leyte:
My first day here, I arrived and was put on the Gladiator team for work. As I rode off with the volunteers in the jeepney the next morning, I assumed I got the work nobody else wanted since I was the new guy - probably the hardest. It wasn't my first rodeo. It turns out I was right. Carl, Andre, and Bill seemed to be long term Gladiators who fed off of each other's competitive vibes, carrying heavier and heavier loads of sacks of gravel and sand, cement bags, and multiple pieces of lumber. Meanwhile, I was sweating profusely and probably suffering heat exhaustion. I had to stop and sit out for a bit - find the shade for a while to cool off. At the end of the day, I calculated at five weeks, six days a week, I was 1/30 of the way finished with my obligation - 29 more days of this. Maybe I should have gone on a food tour of Italy instead. Ha. The next morning was Bill's last day. One of the other volunteers, Izzy, decided to raise money for the project, she would cart Bill to work about five kilometers in a wheel barrel... and back at the end of the day! That night, I signed up to do dishes and consequently got first pick of next day's work. I said, "Gladiators."
Two and a half months later, people still ask me why in the world I chose to do it for almost my whole time on project. Most people get out their first chance and don't look back. Few of us stayed on as Gladiators to do the heavy lifting as suppliers for the rest of the teams. I suppose everyone comes to volunteer for their own reasons. Some want to bulk up their resumes with experience in line with their architecture or international development degrees. Others, perhaps, had just finished undergrad or high school and thought this would be a great experience to go and do good, maybe even meet some other cool young people, drink some beers, and just have a great time. Still others, no doubt, are world travelers trying to stay out away from home for as long as possible, and this serves well to accomplish that goal. I can relate to all of those motives, but there is something else.
Time and time again, the people of typhoon-ravaged Philippines have been referred to as "victims" and that we were here to help them. They are not victims; the victims are in Heaven. The victims needed the first responders and doctors. The people of Tacloban and surrounding areas don't need help being victims. When you show up to work everyday, do you see people who cannot function without us? No. You see smiles and waves; business goes on and kids are going to school; people have food - even enough to share with us. No one is starving or asking for money. I see survivors. I see people, undeterred by destruction and misfortune, living their lives content with what they have and moving forward. We are not here to save them; we are here to offer a service.
 I worked for twenty years in restaurants and hotels. My job title for much of this time was "Server," so you'd think I'd have mastered the idea. However, learning about service - true service to others - is often elusive even to those in the business. The first key to service is that IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. Even in the service industry, this is easily forgotten, and we quickly revert to thinking about ourselves. The second key to service is that we are doing something exactly because it is NECESSARY AND GOOD. We are here to fulfill a need and because it is the right thing to do. Furthermore, we do no harm. Lastly, we recognize the need for SACRIFICE. True service to others is not using a hashtag for the cause of the moment or making a video of yourself pouring ice water on your head. Service requires something difficult from yourself. Service is hard.
Instinctively, we all know this to be true, and we all have proven to be service-minded or we wouldn't be here. However, like I said, even working in the business we need to have that focus, because it is very easy to stray. So, why do I choose to be a Gladiator? Well, because it needs to be done. It's hard, and that's fine.
 I will leave you with a quote from one of our favorite American actors - Tom Hanks, in A League of Their Own, responding to his player's reason for quitting is that "it just got too hard."
"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."
 Thank you all for your service.

Volunteers in blue shirts posing with Filipinos near wooden homes

Friday, July 24, 2015

Island of Samar - Building Boats in the Philippines

Sunset in Pinabacdao
I was fortunate to be able to join the crew of my fellow All Hands Volunteers in Pinabacdao, on the island of Samar for four days. While I didn't do much to help build the boats for our beneficiary fishermen, I was on photography assignment, and this is some of what I was able to capture.

Find out more about what we do at:

Fisherman Walking to his Boat

Our Local Welcome Team in Calampong

All Hands Friends and Me on the Pier to Watch the Sunset

The Pier at Sunset in Pinabacdao


Hand Stamp Signature as Finishing Touch

Many Hands Waterproofing the Hull
Proud Fisherman and His Boat