Kerwin McKenzie is one of those people who just attracts people to him. Gregarious, friendly, with a kind face you trust right away, he greets people he’s only briefly met – like me – as if you’re already great friends. His website, Passrider, is geared particularly toward airline employees, their families and friends.
Kerwin seemed the perfect person to interview for the very first episode of 1001 Travel Tales: Stories from Seasoned Travelers. I co-host it with Shobha George of Just Go Places. You can find this episode here on iTunes, or if you don’t use iTunes, click on the image below.
Introducing Kerwin McKenzie, aviation geek
Kerwin is a self-professed “aviation geek,” and I could listen to him tell stories all day. With my fear of flying, I felt a bit of awe when he said that he regretted never flying a “vintage” Tupolev. I wish I could have that much trust.
(By the way, despite the jokes about Aeroflot in this episode, I had a very good experience the one time I flew with them. Aeroflot is not what it once was, and I mean that in a good way!)
Some Notes on our Interview with Kerwin McKenzie
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Kerwin said that he has visited 71 UNESCO heritage sites, often “by mistake.” I looked it up, and according to UNESCO’s website, there are 1052 sites, so Kerwin has a ways to go!
Kerwin has visited 114 countries, which would qualify him for the Travelers’ Century Club. I counted, and I’m only at about 52.
My Scratch Map
I enjoyed Kerwin’s response to my scratch-off map. If I really decided that being in the airport was enough to scratch off the country, a lot more of the map would be visible. I’ve decided, though, that I won’t scratch off a country until I’ve gotten a feel for it, which, it seems to me, would be harder to do for a large country like Russia than, for example, Andorra.
Kerwin described interacting with the people in the airport: drinking a local beer and so on. I can certainly picture him doing exactly what he describes. A personality like that just draws people to him. I’m more reserved, and would be much less likely to strike up a conversation with total strangers. So visiting an airport is wasted on me!
Kerwin mentioned Johnston Island as one stopover on a multi-stop flight across the Pacific, a “holy grail” for airline geeks, apparently.
I looked up the island and found out that this coral atoll in the Pacific used to belong to Hawaii. It became part of the US at the turn of the 19th century, which declared it a federal bird refuge. Starting from 1934, Johnston Island fell under the jurisdiction of the US Navy – to set up a station – and the US Department of the Interior – as a bird refuge.
The island, and Sand Island next to it, were expanded to accommodate Navy and Air Force operations. In World War II, submarines refueled there, as did aircraft on their way to or from the Eastern Front.
Later, during the Cold War, from 1958 to 1975, the area was used as a base of operations for nuclear testing in the Pacific – so much for the bird refuge!
Commercial flights stopped off there from right after World War II into the 1990’s, and it was available as an emergency landing strip too. After the nuclear testing ended, it was used for storage of chemical weapons, including Agent Orange. That function ended too, in 1990. The chemical weapons stockpile was destroyed by 2002. The buildings of the former base have all been removed, presumably too contaminated by both nuclear and chemical weapons to remain standing.
For a while the US government listed Johnston Island for sale, with restrictions such as areas that are off limits (nuclear and chemical contamination, now in a containment structure), and with no water supply, but – an odd detail – you get your own zip code. I bet you could contact them and make an offer.
Petra, Pompei and Pyramids
Petra came up a couple of times in our discussion of UNESCO sites. It is, indeed, fascinating. If you want to read more about it, here’s the post I wrote after my visit to Petra.
Another place Kerwin mentioned that I’ve been to was Pompei, but that was before I started blogging about travel. Pompei is spectacular in terms of the insight visitors can get into how Pompeians lived on a daily basis. You get less of that understanding at Petra because it was primarily a burial ground, not a living city.
I certainly agree with his comments about the pyramids in Egypt. Surrounded by commercialization and poverty, a tourism experience can lose its enjoyment as visitors are accosted by touts trying to sell camel rides.
I want to add, though, that despite this discomfort, it’s definitely worth seeing. You simply can’t imagine the magnitude of these buildings until you see them in person, especially when you realize how long ago they were built.
1001 Travel Tales Podcast
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