by AARON VICKERS @AAVickers / calgaryflames.com
He didn’t know what the Colosseum was.
Or if it was real.
But he knew he had to go.
And a trip of a lifetime took Garnet Hathaway there.
“We were gone for 99 days,” Garnet started. “Just under a hundred days.”
It was a trip of a lifetime for him and siblings Ephraim, Liz, Caitlin and Jessi, organized by mother Suellen and father John.
From Feb. 6 to May 15, 1999. Ninety-nine days.
“Our planning of the trip … I don’t want to say how long it took to plan it,” Garnet said.
“But at least a year.
“My dad was thinking about it his whole life.
“My dad … he traveled when he was younger and him and his siblings always talked about showing their kids, really give them the experience.
“We were all allowed to put in one place.
“We had to cut down a couple places.
“Every kid got a say.”
Those were the rules.
“One day at the breakfast table I asked the children to start thinking about places in the world they would like to visit,” John recounted via an email exchange with CalgaryFlames.com. “That was the beginning of planning the trip … before they knew we were planning it. We came up with several places around the world. We then asked them to pick one each. They needed to come up with a description of the place and a reason as to why they would want to visit it. We eventually chose the places that we could schedule on a westbound trip around the world.”
Hathaway’s pick? The Colosseum in Rome.
“It was a cartoon,” he said. “You don’t know what it is and I mention it and they’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s a real thing.’
“I wanted to go to the Colosseum. I don’t know why. (There was) a kid’s show when I was younger, and the Colosseum would be in there.
“That was my goal.”
There’s a lot the then-second-grader won’t forget.
The Colosseum, clearly.
Ninety Mile Beach in New Zealand.
Komodo dragons in West Timor.
The Silence Day in Bali.
Surfing at Kuta Beach.
And that’s just tackling the first six weeks.
The trip started, of all places, at eBay.
“We stopped in California,” Garnet said. “We wanted to go that way. I saw some pretty cool things. We went to eBay. That was the stage it was just starting up.
“We got a tour. It was cool.”
“We wanted to take them first to Silicon Valley because technology was emerging as a real force in the world,” John said. “We would be using technology on the trip and the places and cultures we would be visiting would be far removed from any technology.”
The Outback qualifies as one such destination.
The Hathaways flew from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, with eyes on the destinations sister Caitlin had requested.
“The kids flushed the toilets on the plane to see if they flushed in the opposite direction,” John remembered.
The adventure was on from there.
“Unbelievable driving through the Outback,” said Garnet, the youngest of five. “We had a Land Rover, safari van.
“We were just going around, going right through the Outback. I saw the Great Barrier Reef. Unbelievable.
“We backpacked. We were staying in hostels. I had a backpack. I had pants that zipped off into shorts. I had hiking boots.
“It wasn’t a luxurious, five-star luxury vacation.”
But that didn’t detract from the trip.
It enhanced it.
“We rented a van and explored New Zealand, including visiting Ninety Mile Beach and Hot Water Beach, where we experienced the natural hot springs on the beach,” John said. “Then, we flew to Australia. There, we flew to Cairns and went to the Great Barrier Reef and the Rain Forest. Then we drove to the Outback where Crocodile Dundee reigned supreme then drove up to Darwin on the north coast.”
Stage one complete.
A heckuva long way from home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
West Timor, sarongs, and standing bumper-to-bumper with goats and chickens, was next on the agenda courtesy Jessi and Liz.
“East Timor was in civil war at the time,” John said. “We drove around West Timor with a guide, and then we travelled on a fishing boat to Rinca to see the Komodo Dragons who eat people.”
“They roam freely,” Garnet added. “There’s a couple different islands that have Komodos. Some are barriered in.This one they roam free.
“There’s a tour guide with a stick with a ‘v’ at the end in case they come up to us and you just push them down on their neck.
“That was crazy.”
And that’s only the half of it.
“We later read that a Komodo Dragon broke into the Ranger station and ate the ranger,” John recalled. “Garnet wrote a paper on this when he was in high school.”
Safely, the Hathaways soldiered on.
Next up: Gili Meno and a remote beach hut for severeral days (“It was totally remote. We’re not sure why we thought that was a good idea with five children, but it was certainly memorable, and fun,” John said).
“Which meant there was NO talking,” John said. “It’s a day for quiet reflection and self-purification. The night before we watched as the people celebrated with shouting and huge bonfires before The Silence Day.”
Kuta Beach, and some surfing, gave way to Singapore.
“I was a nuisance, probably,” Garnet started. “I still apologize for it.
“I had to get so many vaccinations. We had to take multiple pills each day just to make sure you don’t get sick. I thought they were horse pills.
“I’m seven how am I going to take this down?
“I would put up such a fight every time.
“I want to say I remember a lot, but I have flashbacks. I remember vividly my sister opening up a pill and dumping it into yogurt and telling me to eat the yogurt. It was the worst tasting thing I’ve ever had in my life.
“It was like chalk. ‘You put a pill in here, didn’t you!'”
That, to Garnet, sums it up.
A tour of Nepal gave way to the Royal Chitwan National Park next to India (“We were chased by a water buffalo,” said John).
A double-back to Kathmandu let them navigate to Pokura and a hike of the Annapurna Mountain Range before returning back yet again.
It was a warm-up for something a little bigger.
And a chance meeting.
“That night, we watched the movie ‘Into Thin Air’ about the biggest tragedy ever on Mt. Everest,” John recalled. “The next day we left for Tibet and Mt. Everest. We stopped at the border and ran into Russell Brice.”
Brice, according to Wikipedia lore, has summited Cho Oyu seven times, Himal Chuli and Mount Everest twice, and Manaslu in October 2010 – his 14th summit of an 8,000m peak.
“He was shocked we were planning on taking our children to Mt. Everest,” John said. “He warned that if we didn’t change our plans, ‘Not all of you will survive.’ We thanked him and continued across the border with a ‘new’ visa for our group, while voiding our stamped visas in our passports. At that altitude, it’s very difficult to think well.
“We would pay a price.”
In two separate Land Cruisers with Tibetan drivers, the Hathaways travelled through the Lalungla Pass, an elevation of 16,000 feet, to Tingri. They arrived in their motel – a series of mud huts that featured an open-room outhouse on top of one of the rooms.
That part was unforgettable.
What followed wasn’t.
“During dinner, the door opened and about a dozen Chinese soldiers with machine guns came in and sat down at the tables next to us,” John described. “No words were spoken. Due to Russell’ Brice’s advice at the border, we had changed our route to Tingri. The soldiers had been following us. Of course, China considered Tibet to be part of China.
“Our children had given crayons to the restaurant owner’s children. The soldiers yelled at the owners and sat so that they blocked us from leaving our tables. I advised our children to cautiously slide under the table and make their way to our hut.
Scary in retrospect, Garnet remembered.
“You don’t understand what it’s like over there,” he said. “Soldiers came in.
“I want to remember it, but it’s tough.
“We had to sneak out as kids.
“We were in this shack a house they’re serving us food and tea, and I had to crawl under the table to get out of the building and away from the soldiers to kind of calm the situation down.
“Knowing me I’d probably run across the room doing something silly.”
The next day went a little more seamless.
“Garnet’s sister had altitude sickness and we had to decide if we would continue on to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. Elevation 18,000 feet. This is where Sherpas live before leaving Base Camp. Russell had advised us that if we decided to go to Base Camp to make sure our children did not run or even walk fast, and under no circumstances were they to lift any rocks or exert themselves. Russell had witnessed many deaths on Mt. Everest in his career of leading expeditions. We listened at least the parents did,” said John.
“Of course, Garnet and Ephraim could not help but start running around. It was all we, as parents, could do to get them to stop. At 18,000 feet, where we could hardly breathe, we finally got them under control, and got our favourite photo of our lives, and then continued back down Everest to the main road.
“In any case, dad’s ‘one place in the world he wanted to take his kids’ had ended successfully.”
Garnet declared it a success, too.
“Base Camp at Everest is unbelievable,” he said. “To get up there the attitude is so crazy.
“You have to take it step-by-step.
“You have your Sherpa to help you as you go through the altitude.
“We drove a lot of the way but when you get to the Base Camp you’re in this valley of giant mountains. I remember sitting and looking around at crushed rock everywhere. No one really inhabits this.
“We just sat down with our whole family.
“We were just eating cup of noodles and sitting there looking up and seeing Mount Everest in the view.”
Lhatse, a Tibetan village controlled by the Chinese, followed, as did a trip to Lhasa – Tibet’s biggest city.
China, with stops at Beijing and the Great Wall, were can’t-misses by Ephraim’s declaration.
So, too, was a trip to Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors.
Hong Kong, naturally, would be the next destination of choice … so they thought.
“At the border, our family was asked to disembark,” John said. “We were pulled into a private room and interrogated. The Chinese border patrol accused us of sneaking our children across the border, over the Himalayan Mountains and into China with no visas. How one could perform this trick was beyond us.
“It was all we could do keep five children in one place at one time. Climbing Mt. Everest Base Camp was truly an accomplishment for us. Climbing from Nepal, over the Himalayan Mountains, through Tibet and into China would not even make a believable movie.”
But there they were.
“We were all there,” Garnet said. “We all look the same. Same name.
“I remember being basically in a customs room and my parents were taken away.
“I was sitting with my siblings like ‘what is going on?’ but with no worry in the world for me. I was probably running around fighting my older brother.”
“Finally, I found a piece of paper in my pocket, written in Chinese, that had been given to me in Tibet at the border,” John said. “But I was never told what it was. Of course, we couldn’t read any of it nor what was in our passports. After an hour in the interrogation room, we were allowed to board the bus and be on our way to Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong to Moscow.
Moscow to Athens.
Corfu to Brandisi in Italy.
And, yes, the Colosseum.
“I was fortunate enough to see it,” Garnet said.
“I won’t forget driving up and just seeing it come up from nowhere, basically.”
“Garnet got to see the Colosseum and run up and down the steps,” John said. “There was no doubt, even at seven years old, he was somehow so inspired and touched by the history of that moment.”
Many more inspiring moments followed.
“We went through Greece through Europe,” Garnet said. “I saw the Eiffel Tower. Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. We went through London.
“I was fixated on everything. I don’t know why a kid like me walking through a museum I was fixated on everything.
“We went to the Louvre.
“Sisteen Chapel. Walk in. Oh man. That’s art. That sticks with you, and that feeling of when you walk in and how a room THAT big can be THAT quiet.
“And you look up.
“Just a pin-drop.”
“There were a lot of special memories. I want to return to those places and see how I remember it and see how it’s changed.”
The reasons are simple.
“It was my family being together non-stop for three months, away from home,” Garnet said.
“I think that helped us grow a lot.
“Yeah, we fought a lot. But I think that’s how you grow.
“And then it’s understanding. Later on in school I’d look at a textbook and know what it was like.
“I knew those pictures. It’s not as glamorous.
“You understand and you really realize how fortunate you are to have what you have.
“It’s definitely eye-opening.
“But then outside of that every day I would consider myself a pretty open person. I think that trip, that experience, is a huge reason why.
“As my dad did for me and my siblings, mom and dad, not just my dad … what they did for us …
“I would love to be able to do for my kids.
“It’s a special experience for my family.
“It’s helped me be who I am.”