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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Travels with Marty

Contributed by Jerome Galvin

No matter when you ring Marty Fritzhand’s doorbell, the East Walnut Hills resident probably isn’t home. He’s usually somewhere far, far away. In fact, he has visited virtually every country in the world. India, twenty seven times. Marty is a physician who runs a medical business that allows him time for travel. Wherever he is, he won’t have advance reservations, a load of luggage, a sightseeing to-do list and a tight timetable. 

When Marty turned his camera around to show those boys their photo, the boy in the jacket was confused. He’d never seen his own face before.
Marty travels - sometimes with me - searching for surprises and adventures. It is something he’s done his entire adult life. He shows up in challenging places with a few changes of underwear and shirts, a Lonely Planet guidebook, a flexible plan and a willingness to improvise.

Marty Fritzhand and Jerry Galvin - off to India carrying everything they need for two weeks of travel.
Need an example? We arrived around 2 a.m. in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Marty scrounged around for a taxi to take us to a hotel listed in our guidebook. Once we left the airport there was total darkness. No light at night is a fact of life in what are now called developing nations. After only a mile or two the cab ran out of gas. Knowing we were on the right road, we started walking. And, yes, we found a place to sleep, eventually. 

Marty’s itineraries usually include one place or event that is the centerpiece of each trip. The annual camel fair and festival in Pushkar, India, draws about 200,000 people each year. So, advance reservations there were a must for us. But improvisation was still necessary. Marty, without negotiating a price, took photos of a gnarly snake charmer as he teased a cobra up out of a basket. I watched, amused, while Marty charmed the charmer’s very large assistants out of taking his money and his camera.

The free “washing machine” anyone can use in a small Sumatran town
When he suggested an Indonesian journey from the south tip of Sumatra, the world’s sixth largest island, to Medan in the north, I signed on. The challenge was to cover that distance in just ten days using only public transportation, while stopping to see temples, towns and scenery along the way. The ten days were an artificial deadline of sorts because he wanted time at the end to work our way up to Bangkok for more sightseeing. 

Before leaving here, a friend said it was impossible to reach Medan in ten days, if we made stops along the way. He was right. We needed air transportation for the last few hundred miles. I can’t remember what frightening local airline flew us, but I think its slogan was “Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.”

At a watering hole in Ghana -  when the big guy trumpets “time to go,” they go.
Price negotiations and occasional shakedowns are a way of life in many of Marty’s favorite countries. He claims that Americans do all tourists a disservice by paying many, many times more than locals do. Sometimes his negotiations need orchestration. 

Shopper and child at West Africa’s massive open air market in Gorem-Gorem near Mali
In Ghana, for example, he told me to stand apart while he looked for a driver to take us to the famous Mole National Park. Tip: Never expect negotiations in developing nations to be private. A crowd always gathers to watch the back and forth, even if most of the language is lost on the onlookers. Marty gestured for the crowd to wait. He walked over and quietly told me to start screaming gibberish at him. Then he walked back to the crowd and told the potential driver I wanted to cancel the trip because the transportation was too expensive. That did it. The driver and Marty settled on a price maybe only twice as much as a local would pay. 

After three days of unforgettable safaris inside the park, we left Mole’s wild animals and drove south late at night towards Accra. Along the way, two gun-carrying, self-appointed guardians of Ghana’s highways blocked the road and told us there was a toll. The good doctor and the gunmen settled at three dollars after starting at ten. Everything’s negotiable. 

Marty Fritzhand at a Kumbh Mela, a mass Hindu pilgrimage often bringing millions to one location
Marty is a great tour guide for temples, mosques and synagogues. He has almost encyclopedic knowledge about the gods, mythology and histories of most of the world’s religions. But when we visited the Catholic country of Brazil, I became the religious tour guide in the provincial towns along the coast north of Rio. He’ll probably learn while reading this that I got bored giving him the same explanations for all the Catholic paintings, frescos and iconography we saw. So I began to make up stories that were simply not true. Even though I may face the final day of reckoning for those stories, it will have been worth it just to have seen the amazement on Marty’s face. 

Next up for us is Djibouti expressly to experience the new train from there south to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Then, on to Uganda to see gorillas. Gorillas, camels, temples, massive open air markets, guys with guns. That’s the deal when you travel with Marty. 

Man praying at the edge of the Ganges River in the holy city of Varanasi

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