Souvenirs of Travel

Ed Boitano, Curator

Our current T-Boy Society of Film, Travel and Music poll is devoted to souvenirs you purchased or found in a foreign land or country. The specifications included any item that leads to a thoughtful remembrance of your journey and still colors your thoughts today.

The intention of the poll is to offer you a chance to see another side and perspective of our esteemed staff of writers.

Bookmarks in My Pages of Travel by Deb Roskamp, T-Boy Photographer.

Photograph courtesy of Creanoso Vintage Cards.

I love reading.  When we travel, I try to pick up some bookmarkers to remind me of where I’ve been.  That way, I can mark my books as I travel through the pages. – Deb Roskamp

The Fab 4 Invade Cambodia by Ed Boitano, T-Boy Editor.

Vendors in Sihanoukville: You name it and there’s a chance they might have it. Photograph courtesy of the Culture Trip.

My time in Sihanoukville, Cambodia was far too brief. But it was easy to see a fledging nation still recovering from the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime and their own war with Vietnam. I was stunned to see such poverty in this nation attempting to make tourism an important component in their infrastructure. Animals grazed in open garbage dumps, and derelict homes on stilts tilted towards the sea. Yet young children with open smiles rushed up to me to say hello in English. I couldn’t help but to notice a rather haphazard swap meet, surprisingly blessed with items from foreign lands: Britney Spears CDs, Mickey Mouse Paraphernalia, Hollywood movie plaques, and, most ab fabulously, a vintage Beatles lunch bucket, which still adorns my kitchen cabinet today. – Ed Boitano

I noticed there was no Beatles thermos inside, but that hardly mattered. Photograph via Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

A Maya Pot in Remembrance by Richard Carroll, T-Boy Writer.

Driving the back roads of Mexico in the African Queen, a 1972  VW Camper, I spent weeks in Southern Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the State of Quintana Roo. The semi-tropical landscape wraps around ancient history, and stony temples standing for some 3,000 years. Flights of fantasy and puzzlement swirled about while driving on narrow dirt roads to remote villages, and where time was firmly locked in place in a continuance of the ancient Maya civilization.

Photograph courtesy of Halina Kubalski.

I often came upon Maya temples covered with vines and foliage, most of them not listed on maps, and the village people speaking the ancient Maya language. My Spanish produced questionable smiles. It seemed as if I was discovering centuries-old altars and shrines with sun-bleached stones and a mystic otherworldly setting where large iguanas sunbathed on the ancient structures, eyes blazing.

Easily out numbering the ancient pyramids of Egypt, hundreds of Maya sites in Mexico and Guatemala are yet to be uncovered. The Yucatan Peninsula is tropical, dense and lush, with a green coastal lowland featuring gently rolling terrain, mangrove swamps and a porous limestone base that produces caves and cenotes that were favored by the Maya.

Photograph courtesy of Halina Kubalski.

One afternoon, the sun high in the sky, I was lost, the birdlife mocking me in a squabble of songs. I found a village but failed to communicate with anyone, my Spanish going downhill. Beyond the village was a ruined Maya site with a temple that looked as if it has been hit with a lightning strike. I walked past the temple along a stony path to a pile of stones wondering if I would ever find my way out to a paved highway with signs. I was carrying a long stick to ward off any snakes that might be lingering on the path or undergrowth, when I uncovered a small Maya pot buried beneath a flat smooth stone. It was smaller than my hand but intact, and crusted with dirt and a few ants. The classic Maya pot was a splendid omen. I wondered who held it last, what was its use, who was the potter, and how many Yucatecan sunsets had it endured?

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Photograph courtesy of Halina Kubalski.

Somehow, I found a paved road to Guatemala, the Maya pot resting on the passenger seat leading the way. Strangely enough, things stated running smoothly, no more flat tires, petrol stations aplenty, and with the Maya pot I made it home to Southern California safely. The little pot is displayed in our home reminding me of the sweeping Maya world of Middle America, full of great mystery and intrigue, a complex enigma that can lay hold of the sensibilities, and can fulfill a longing for adventure and discovery. – Richard Carroll

All That Glitters by Susan Breslow, T-Boy Writer.

Plaza Principal San Miguel de Allende. Photograph courtesy of Guida de Turismo, de-paseo.com.

On my first visit to San Miguel Allende (which Condé Nast Traveler readers named Best City in the World), I headed to the Jardín Allende, where wrought-iron benches offer a place to relax or meet friends under wide shade trees. Lining both sides of the park, vendors display their wares.

I was attracted by the variety of earrings, many of which incorporate hearts, an iconic symbol of the city. Before I left, I’d acquired a collection of pressed-tin danglers, and none cost more than $5. Mexico is also known for Oaxacan embroidery, and San Miguel offers everything from clothing to furnishings enlivened by colorful threadwork. In this area, just about everything was affordable, including the variety of tasty ice cream flavors sold from pushcarts. Those with a taste for more upscale shopping are advised to visit Fabrica la Aurora, a collection of galleries, shops, and restaurants inside a renovated textile mill. For sustenance, take a break at Chocolate and Churros San Agustin, which offers an extensive menu of chocolate drinks and just-made churros to dip. That, you can’t take with you… just the memory. – Susan Breslow

Postcards From Everywhere by James Boitano, T-Boy Writer.

Back in the olden days, there was no Facebook or Instagram. When you traveled, you were cut off from your friends and family back home. It wouldn’t be until you returned home and you got your rolls of film developed that you could share your travel experiences with them.  To create a bridge of contact, post cards were invented: a tangible cardstock souvenir literally from that place, printed with a colorful set of photos of the place and adorned with an exotic postage stamp. This little rectangle of cardstock though would be personalized with your own message and handwriting, and then laden on an airplane, barge, to be delivered weeks or even months later to the loved ones back home. Often, the sender would have returned long before the post card arrived. But who cares? What a unique souvenir for the recipient: a little piece of ‘over there’ which would never disappear. Of course, now on we can connect instantly and send blanket greetings on social media. But long after our profile pages fade away, these little post cards will remain.

Postcards courtesy of James Boitano.

So, I still send postcards when I travel. I try to send them from the farthest and most interesting destination, I try to find the most interesting card, the most colorful stamp. And years ago, when I would send out a batch of post cards to my friends and family, I’d always mail one to myself as well. I have dozens of these now, and they are all in one big binder, a wonderful souvenir from my years and years of travel. – James Boitano

A Fashionable Souvenir by Tom Weber, T-Boy Writer.

No, not me; but does give you an idea of what a handcrafted pair of wooden eyeglasses looks like. Photograph courtesy of Fritz Frames.

I brought back “fashion” as a souvenir from Oz on our just-concluded, month-long vacation. The fashion is a handcrafted pair of wooden eyeglasses by a Queenslander, via Germany, boat maker who also dabbles in eyeglass frames (Fritz Frames) and furniture when he’s not restoring wooden boats. Be on the lookout the next couple of weeks IF my glasses arrive soon by DHL courier. – Tom Weber

Not the Running of the Bulls by Ringo Boitano, T-Boy Writer.

Torito de Pucará: a symbol in the Peruvian Andes. Photograph courtesy of  Peru Andean Travel.

With the advent of bulls, introduced by the Spanish to Peru, no longer would the pre-Columbian populace have to use human strength in dragging their stones and materials over 500-year-old Incan terraces. I noticed many life size bull decorations on rooftops in the Sacred Valley, intended to bring good luck, prosperity, crops and livestock fertility. Though never a fan of knickknacks, I couldn’t resist purchasing a small ceramic Toritos de Pucará (Pucara Bulls), readily available by artisans, as a souvenir and symbol of the Andean farms. Plus, I never shied away from good luck. – Ed Boitano

Magnets of Memories by Fyllis Hockman, T-Boy Writer.

After decades of traveling the world, my walls and shelves are covered with mementos and souvenirs. I finally reached the point where I hesitated to buy anything more simply because I knew I had nowhere to either hang or put it. So now I simply buy an appealing magnet and relive memories every time I access my refrigerator. – Fyllis Hockman

My Own Laughing Buddha by T.E. Mattox, T-Boy Writer.

Back in the 70s when I was still in uniform and stationed in Asia, I drew two weeks of R&R. I thought I’d visit some countries nearby, so I picked Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. Being a young sailor, Hong Kong and Singapore were pretty much an alcohol-infused haze, hey it was R&R and I still had most of my liver. 

But Thailand was sobering. As our plane touched down in Bangkok, our pilot informed us that a coup d’etat was currently underway throughout the country. He also stated it shouldn’t be a problem but we should stay alert, stay in groups and have a nice visit. 

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Mattox’s Laughing Buddha where it rests today in San Diego. Photograph by TE Mattox.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the lamp, but coup d’etat and have a nice visit don’t belong in the same conversation much less the same sentence. After clearing customs and boarding the bus to our hotel, wouldn’t you know about six to eight very angry young men all carrying Kalashnikovs, waved our bus to pull over and stop. After yelling at our driver through the closed door, he relented and opened it. Collectively, we all wished he hadn’t. Three of the armed individuals came aboard the bus, very animated, yelling at the driver. Not understanding a word of any of the three main Thai languages, I can assure you my underwear immediately recognized the AK-47s. Then I heard the bus driver say clearly… tourist followed by the word, American. After another heated exchange and a few more angry scowls, the head ‘coup’ conspirator yelled something at all of us and pushed his way back off the bus. The driver closed the door and drove us straight to the hotel. Every single one of us walked directly into the hotel bar. The rest of the visit was non-eventful…

The following day near Patpong Road I found my favorite souvenir. It is a 14 lbs. solid teakwood carving of a laughing Buddha that I have to this day. With my dog tags still hanging around its neck, it reminds me that tomorrow is never guaranteed and you should enjoy every minute that you have. The next rounds on me. – T.E. Mattox

An Old Poncho in Old Bogota by Skip Kaltenheuser, T-Boy Writer.

Poncho Mahoney safe and home in D.C. Photograph by Skip Kaltenheuser.

Traveling overland with a big backpack from Kansas to South America in 1975, I wildly overpacked. Scout motto “Be Prepared” echoed in my mind. Along the way, I shed items that proved not worth their weight on my back, gifting or trading them. By the time I hit Bogota in the Andes, the third highest capital in the world, I’d shed too much. Morning chills had me envying the ponchos worn by local sheepherders. A blanket with a hole for your head, brilliant! Still have that first poncho, a tear just repaired, wearing it to keep down my DC thermostat. Harkens back to a trip that changed my perspective on the world through young eyes. Also, to buying emeralds in a bar on Bogota’s notorious Emerald Row, one of the world’s most dangerous pieces of real estate before Colombian authorities shut it down. Emeralds intended for a girl with green eyes. I still have the stones. And the memory of being chased at night through the narrow, winding cobblestone streets of Old Bogota by a one-legged beggar, but no time for that here. – Skip Kaltenheuser.

Pinatubo Pebbles by Raoul Pascual, T-Boy Webmaster & Illustrator.

Weary travelers take a breather at the lake inside the crater of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines. Photograph by Raoul Pascual.

My wife and I went to visit family several years ago and our son tagged along. My wife and I were content to catch up with loved ones but our spritely son was gung ho to explore. After days of nothing but family time, he realized he was surrounded by old foggies. And so he did research on Philippine tours and booked us for a trip to Mount Pinatubo, one of the most powerful volcanoes in recent history. The eruption was so terrifying, several nearby towns were covered by volcanic ash. In one town, the only visible remnant was the church steeple. For years, a left wing political movement cried for the ouster of US bases (personally, I did not agree with their politics) but within a few days Pinatubo covered Clark Airbase and Subic Naval Base with so much ash the US decided to abandon its operation there. The Pinatubo ashes drifted over the Pacific and even reached California.

Stones from Mount Pinatubo. Photograph by Raoul Pascual.

We almost died walking up to the mountain to reach the lake inside the huge crater that had formed. Along the trail were yellow powdery phosphorous stones and other volcanic rocks. I picked up a few and I’ve given some to friends. But a few still remain in my collection. – Raoul Pascual

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