The Great Mosque of Djenné.

For more than a hundred years, Timbuktu (Tombouctou) has been used as a metaphor for the most isolated place in the world. Unlike the fictional Shangri-la (invented by James Hilton in his novel “Lost Horizon”), however, Timbuktu is a very real place.

A bit of history

Its reputation for faraway isolation developed during the 19th century, but it did have a golden age, based on trade and scholarship, from the 12th to the 16th centuries. The University of Timbuktu was...

This expansive view was seen from a high vantage point on one of our hikes.

Though our November 2019 tour would be the first time that Road Scholar offered a hiking trip in Japan, their local partner, Walk Japan, was an expert at this type of trip. Offering a great hiking experience on clean, well-maintained trails through fields with lovely vegetable gardens and terraced rice paddies, forests, streams and waterfalls, the journey was planned to take in the fall colors, and they were near their peak, with bright-red and salmon-pink maples, bright-yellow ginkgos and...

Map of Belize.

In November 2019, I visited Belize on a trip that concentrated on ancient civilizations and bird-watching. The trip was organized by Belize Travel Adventures (Kings land, TX; 512/913-5525, www.belizetraveladventures.com). Costing $2,820, the 7-night trip included a private guide for most excursions and the short flight from Flores, in Guatemala, to Belize. Everything worked out very well.

Settling in

I flew into Belize City from Flores — I had been touring Guatemala prior...

The stunningly designed Bodegas Ysios in Laguardia.

My husband, Michael, and I were headed back to Spain in early September 2019. This time, friends Jane and Paul (J&P) would be joining us for part of the trip. J&P had never been to Spain, so here are some of the things we did to make sure we all would still be friends when we returned.

Some ground rules We planned to rent apartments in San Sebastián and Barcelona and reserve a hotel in Laguardia, so we asked J&P how they wanted to be involved with the accommodation...

The harbor of Santo António, Príncipe.

We’re all eager for the pandemic to end so we can start roaming the globe again, and, undoubtedly, we’ve all been making plans in our heads while we’ve been cooped up. If those plans involve travel to the Iberian Peninsula, here’s a wild idea: why not celebrate getting out of stir by going a little farther, to paradise?

After a May 2019 stay in Portugal, I tagged on a 10-day solo visit to what has become my personal paradise, the 2-island nation of São Tomé...

In the desert near Tozeur, where scenes from the original “Star Wars” movie were filmed.

I was blissfully ignorant of what my travel future held for me when I boarded a plane in Memphis, Tennessee, on Feb. 15, 2020, headed (via Toronto and Frankfurt) to Tunis, Tunisia.

My plan was to spend six days in each of two North African countries, Tunisia and Algeria.

This would be my third attempt at trying to visit North Africa. Twice before, a friend and I had taken a Viking “South Mediterranean” cruise with port calls in Tunis and Algiers, but due to...

View of the village of Nako. The drive up was quite scary!

Last year, an enigmatic email from a friendship begun six years before on an adventurous trip to Papua New Guinea piqued my interest. My friend Knox Bell shared that Original World/Spirit of India (San Rafael, CA; 888/367-6147, originalworld.com) was looking for “intrepid travelers” for a month-long adventure into the “Ancient Cultures of the Indian Himalaya” (plus Ladakh), and he thought of me! Within 30 minutes, I had called the travel agent and I was on board....

View of the Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System.

After a 15-hour flight from San Francisco, via Dubai, on Emirates airline, my husband, Bill, and I arrived in Tehran, Iran. This was the beginning of our 3-week September 2019 tour with JMG Tibet Tours (Lauderhill, FL; 866/548-4238, www.jmgtibettours.com).

Though I don’t enjoy writing, I really felt compelled to share this amazing experience because so many of my preconceptions were wrong.

About the tour

This was owner Jeff Garrett’s first venture taking a...