Mayan Ruins and Karl ‘The Screw’

This is a guest post by my friend Wes Nations who blogs at JohnnyVagabond.com. I met Wes several years ago in Bangkok and he’s been a big help to me providing graphic design on thing like my travel photography book. Wes has had some of the most interesting stories of any traveler I know, and I’m pleased that he has agreed to share one of them here.

Take it away, Wes…..


I met Karl in Flores, Guatemala, a small island town in the middle of Lake Petén. He was a massive man, tanned and with a thick head of white hair and matching beard. I wouldn’t have guessed it but he was 72 years old. He had a heavy German accent but it turned out that he had emigrated to Australia when he was in his teens and was now living in Florida. A full life.

I asked what he had done for a living and he looked down at his feet for a second before answering. “I’m not proud of it but I was a Screw“. When I just stared at him, confused, he added “I was a prison guard. Twenty five years…”
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My 2014 Travel Plans

Several times in the past I’ve outlined my future travel plans, and in every case they ended up being inaccurate. Plans change, opportunities arise and some things just don’t pan out.

I present this not as an official document, but as a draft of what I know as of now. The further out in time I go, the less clear everything becomes.

Last year I announced that I was going to slow down a bit, and this year I will finally start to do that. I admit that my slowing down is still way more active than most people, but for me, it is a bit slower. I’ll be spending more time in one place and doing side trips. The result of this, I hope, is that I will be more productive, write more for this website, and finally (FINALLY) get my book done.

You can see a complete list of the countries and territories I think I’ll be visiting in 2014 if you scroll down to the bottom of my country list.

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Amateur Traveler Interview on the Lesser Antilles

Last summer I did an island hopping tour of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. I recently did two appearances on the popular Amateur Traveler podcast with my friend Chris Christensen to talk about my trip.

Because there were so many islands, we split the interview into two with the first half talking about the Leeward Islands (USVI, BVI, St Martin, Saba, St Eustatius, Anguilla, St Bart’s, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Montserrat) and the Windward Islands (Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago).

This was actually my 6th and 7th appearance on the show, going all the way back to 2008. I always tend to talk about tiny countries. My previous episodes include the micro-states of Europe, the Canary Islands, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Persian Gulf States, and Micronesia region.

If you don’t subscribe to the Amateur Traveler, you really should. It is one of the best travel podcasts on the Internet.

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My Most Memorable Accommodations, Restaurants and Airlines of 2013

Before we get too far into 2014, I figure I should publish my annual list of my favorite hotels from the previous year. Read my previous year end favorites from 2012 and 2011.

For the most part, I do not talk about hotels, airlines and the minutia of travel. There are people out there who care much more about this stuff than I do. I don’t travel to stay in hostels, I stay in hotels so I can travel.

That being said, I give myself one opportunity per year to talk about the hotels I stayed at during the previous year. This is that time.

Some explanation for how I compiled this list: The list is 100% subjective. I do not visit hotels with a checklist and inspect them looking for small problems. This list represents an overall impression of a place which often may be a factor of amenities, service, location or just a general feeling. Some places I paid my own way, and some were comped. I slept in over 150 beds in 2013 and the number may be closer to 200. There is no set number for the list. I could have been larger or smaller depending on where I stayed. The list is not a reflection of luxury. There are luxury hotels on the list, but there are also hostels. To be eligible for the list, I had to have actually slept there at least one night. Site visits do not count. This list represents my personal views. I’d gladly recommend any of these places, but your experience may be different than mine.

With that out of the way, here were my favorite places of 2013……
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Legal Travel to Cuba for Americans and Why NOW is the Time to Go!

Cuba is slowly opening up to Americans. Contrary to popular belief, Americans can go to Cuba and do so legally. I’ve asked fellow blogger and Cheesehead Heidi Siefkas to give an overview for how Americans can travel to Cuba and why they may want to consider doing so now. Take it away Heidi…..


When I told my friends and family that I travel to Cuba, I receive many questions, all with puzzled looks. Many ask if it is legal. Others ask if it is safe. Others wonder why travel to Cuba at all. Having five trips under my belt this year alone as a tour director and four more trips this fall, I have fallen in love with Cuba, its people, and cultural richness. Although Cuba is not on the traditional traveler’s radar, I would like to share with you how you too can travel to Cuba. So here’s the skinny on legal travel to Cuba, how it’s done, and why you should travel to Cuba and NOW.
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2013: A Year in Photography

2013 was an epic year for me in terms of travel. I took 84 flights and set foot in 44 different countries and territories on 5 different continents. I visited 73 new world heritage sites and probably another 20 which I had visited previously. I didn’t even count the number of miles I traveled by car, train and boat.

Photographically, it was also my best year ever. I won the Gold Medal in the North American Travel Journalism Association for my photo essay of the Canary Islands. I won a Northern Lights Award and a Lowell Thomas Award for my photo essay of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.

The biggest news of the year was being named Photographer of the Year by the Society of American Travel Writers.

I’ve assembled some of my favorite photos taken from 2013. They represent a cross section of all the places I’ve been. I’ve been to so many places this year and took so many photos I easily could have doubled the size of this without hurting the quality.

I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them!

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