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Posted on Nov 11, 2012

Old People Should Be In Nursing Homes (not Backpacking or Sailing the World), Right?

Old People Should Be In Nursing Homes (not Backpacking or Sailing the World), Right?

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Aren’t old people supposed to sit there in their rocking chair and smiles sweetly, while they show you photos of their youth? Those are the old people I grew up loving. I loved their soft hands, their wide eyed joy when you just sit down and listen to their stories, how they make you feel so special. I love old people (already said that), but I do, I love old people. The only old people I knew growing up were those at the Seven Acres Geriatrics Home in Houston. Sarah Portnoy, who had a car, dragged me to the old age home to play BINGO one Sunday, and I kept coming back for the next fourteen years. I love, love, love old people. I always had the fear when I walked down the hallway to see this one or that one, that this week, they wouldn’t be there anymore. And, eventually, Captain (born Morris, but affectionately known as Captain because of the captain’s hat he always wore, his last one, I had bought in at the harbor in Boston), Sam, and Jerry all died. Captain was the hardest for me to face, he, at some point thought I was his wife. How much that one man taught me, how ahead of his time he was, how he kept telling me stuff that I just smiled sweetly, thinking “weird, old man” but now, only now, as I near 40, do I get. So Nursing Home Backpackers, the idea that old folk travel, was a shock for me. Only when I left my bubble, and actually began traveling myself, did I discover ‘nursing home backpackers’ in their unreal, magical splendor. I’ll share with you the stories of three remarkable men who we met in different continents in our travels: Carl (91 years old), DeCapo (thought that’s not his name) and Michael (73) . All three, ironically, had been sailors in their youth; all three are unreal stories of true travel inspiration.

Ninety-One Year Old Backpacking Carl

Carl was unreal, and running through the streets screaming for an ambulance for him, as he lay on the floor of the hostel courtyard was quite a terrifying memory. We met him in Antigua, Guatemala at the Ruiz II Hostel. He walked in with his backpack, all ninety-one years of him. I wish I remembered more details but those were before the day of emails, blogs, and digital photography. I don’t know where his photos are and I may just have a few of his hand-written letters in box the storage room above our apartment back in Israel. My memory will have to serve me here, which doesn’t say much, as most of that came out with my kids, which is why I keep Kobi around, to remind me of stuff. So, Carl was from Finland or Denmark and was a sailor. He left his wife in their retirement community in Florida cuz she wasn’t up for doing this adventure. “Maybe next time” I almost remember his saying. A couple in their young thirties, who then seemed soooo old to us, Heather and Peter from New Zealand, were planning to get pregnant with their first child. Heather spent hours learning from Carl names of pretty things in his language, and Heather pretty much decided that if it would be a girl, she would name her that drooping bell-shaped flower that Carl sketched in black pen. So, we sat around at night to the music of that German guy’s guitar   (I think his name was Wolfgang, I know, like Amadeus! ), we walked to the local market to buy our pineapple of the day, and we spent hours talking. And yes, that ambulance thing scared us to death.  He wasn’t feeling well (the normal backpacker dehydration and diarrhea) sort of thing, but he took he a bit hard, as I imagine is logical for you typical 90+ year old backpacker.

When we all reconvened back at the hostel that evening, Carl tells me. laughing, how he’s  bnever forget the image of me running after the ambulance on those cobble-stoned streets. Remarkable how, less than 7 hours later, Carl was able to laugh at and even cherish the scariest moments. We hand-wrote letters for a while. Remember, we weren’t into computers much back then. How I loved receiving those legal size envelopes in that black wobbly handwriting, until the letters stopped coming, and mine came back with the ‘return to sender’ stamp. That was Carl.

Seventy- Three Year Old World Sailing Michael

I could write for an hour about what I think about his three-year sailing adventure with his son and wife, and what that gave his son, as a person, and his family, as a unit. I could tell you that I used to think it is illogical for a seventy-three year old to still promenading on world adventures. I could tell you how lazy I am that I never did edit the video and just put it up in three parts so that I can go play guitar for Or and Ron, our newest Israeli friends. I could tell you that Orazi (my son) highlights many of our movies with his joyful humor.

But, you will see it all for yourself. Enjoy and tell me this 73  year old adventurer is not shockingly, out-of-this-world unreal!

Seventy+ Year Old DeCapo’s Multiple Pacific Crossing

This story, I’ve already told with great love and admiration. It was a party-crazy, foam-fighting, unreal-family-bonding adventure in Medellin, Colombia and DeCapo (not his real name, but I love it too much not to use it) just appeared one night on the street just to inspire us.

So, thank you old folk for breaking every conception and prejudice I’ve ever had. Thank you dear Carl, Michael, and DeCapo for teaching me that ‘carpe diem’ is not just now, while I’m young, that I an travel the world. Hats off to some unreal, inspirational sailors who have now ingrained in me that as long as I am healthy and alive, I shall travel.

I love saying that. I fuckin love saying it so much, I’ll have to just say it again.


“As long as I am healthy and alive, I shall travel.”

Anything you want to say? Met any ‘nursing home backpackers’ who blew your mind? I’m all ears.

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Thank you friends!

:-) Gabi



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