Retired Austin Travelers
Carolyn Barkley - A Memory
Goodbye, Carolyn, Goodbye
by June Landrum

 Carolyn Barkley was an enthusiastic RAT – a Retired Austin Traveler.  

 Carolyn passed away on May 30th, 2022.  

As the family hasn’t set a date for a memorial service, I decided to write a “Goodbye” piece and share it with anyone interested.  
 When Phil and I first met Carolyn she was always talking about some trip or another she’d just taken or was about to embark on.  Sometimes she wasn’t present for a group meeting, as she would be traveling at the time.  I thought to myself what a life she must have, traveling like that!

 In December of 2011, Katie Robirds mentioned to me Carolyn was looking for someone to accompany her on her trips.  Phil and I had recently returned from a 2 1/2-month trip to South Africa and Egypt, and he told me he was tired of traveling for awhile.  He and I discussed Carolyn’s quest, and I subsequently e-mailed Carolyn with my response:  I would like to be considered to travel with her.

Almost immediately (she remembers she received my e-mail on Christmas Eve) she responded that we should meet, and we made lunch plans for the following week.
 During that lunch she explained she needed someone to travel with her and help with certain physical things she couldn’t do for herself.  She continued, that her main need was for someone to make certain she “woke up every morning.” 
THAT certainly got my attention.  I told her I was willing to do anything physically I could do, but she should be aware that I had NO medical training, zero, zip.  She replied that, if necessary, all I would be required to do would be contact her tour guide or the hotel reception to call an ambulance.  I swallowed hard and agreed I could do that.    
That was the beginning of a whirlwind 10 years, ten years I never expected and will never forget.  
Carolyn would come to my house with a list of countries she wanted to visit.  We’d discuss which we might group together, and how much opposition we were going to receive from our respective families for these trips.
I think she enjoyed causing the flak almost as much as the trips!

In 2013 alone she and I traveled to twenty-seven countries or territories.  To accomplish this amazing travel feat, we took two lengthy cruises.  We checked off a lot of Caribbean Islands and almost every country on the west coast of Africa.  In addition, we managed to squeeze in Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia, Botswana, and Paris before the year was out.

2014 was our most ambitious year, with thirty-one countries or territories under our belts.  2014 was also the year we took the trip we both most hated:  To the South Pacific.  That trip nearly broke us up!  At one point I wanted to get on the next plane home and I’m certain Carolyn would have been glad for me to do that.  But we settled our differences and went on to travel again.

Many have asked me which country was my favorite.  I can’t answer that.  I’ve loved almost every one of them.

A few of the places we visited were UNinteresting.  Off the coast of India are the islands of Andaman and Lakshadweep, and off the coast of China lies Hanan Island.  I'll advise anyone to not add these to your travel plans.  

Carolyn said her favorite was North Korea.  

Carolyn loved nothing quite as much as talking to people in these countries.  She’d interview our guides at length about topics like “How did you meet your wife;” “What’s dating like in your country?  Describe your weddings, and funerals.”

She really reveled when talking to folks in the local markets.  
She verbally admired their wares: vegetables, fruit, handmade items, and the people she met seemed to really enjoy her attention.  I can almost be certain they’d not met anyone like Carolyn.  She was genuinely curious about other people and their cultures and wanted to connect with them: “I want to hear how they make it” was how she put it.  “I love you!”  She’d loudly exclaim repeatedly as she threw kisses to the vendors.

Her second love was photographing everyone she met and everything she saw.  Early in our travel days she asked Phil to help her pick out a new camera.  She wanted the best point and shoot she could buy.  Nikon may have cringed at her use of those great cameras as a "point and shoot", but she needed to be able to snap on the fly.  
She enjoyed writing stories for her blog.  When she wasn’t traveling a lot of her time was spent writing about her adventures.  She’d ask our guides for their input to make certain she had the correct facts she wrote about.  She loved receiving comments about her posted stories and loved to see when people in far away places looked at her blog. 
She loved her souvenirs!  No trip was complete without a memento to remind her of her journey.  Anyone who visited her home had to be amazed at the number of items on display.  She was especially fond of handmade dolls and had an impressive collection of them from around the world.

We attended the Kentucky Derby, where we bet on every horse that ran that day – just so we could be certain we’d have a winning ticket.

Before she had to use a wheelchair exclusively, on a day tour in Uzbekistan we had walked and walked and walked!  Carolyn ran out of steam, and after unsuccessfully trying to snag a cab, our tour guide asked a policeman to take us to our hotel.   The car was tiny and we could hardly squeeze into the seats.  The 3 of us laughed very hard at our situation.  When we crawled out of the small police car at the front door to our hotel, the hotel staff was more than curious and bewildered.  But as their English was so limited, we decided there was no point in trying to explain.  We could only keep laughing hysterically.      

We visited with the San People.  We slept in cots under the stars in a very cold Kalahari Desert, and enjoyed the company of friendly Meerkats.
On a trip to Istanbul, we had been to the Grand Bazar market.  We hailed a cab to return us to our hotel.  On the route, the driver told us the price, which was about double what we’d paid to get to the bazar.  Carolyn disagreed with him to the point he pulled off the busy road and said we could pay him half of the fare and get out of the cab there.  We were on the side of a busy highway on the outskirts of Istanbul!  At that, Carolyn decided she should agree to his price and we continued to our hotel.  Once there, she tossed him her original price and abruptly got out of the cab, leaving me to face the music with a hopping mad taxi driver.    

Carolyn loved the reaction she received when she regaled fellow travelers and our guides with trips taken and countries visited.  I think the most eyebrows have been raised when she talked about visiting North Korea.  But mention of trips to Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and of course Libya were received with bemusement and tinged with astonishment.
Sometimes we were asked the question “WHY?”  To that, Carolyn always responded “Because it’s there!”

2021:  Our last trip together was to Turkey, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates. We were literally kicked out of Libya after landing at the airport in Tripoli.  

Continuing on to Turkey, she experienced a hairline fracture in her spine when she turned in our small boat to look at a scene behind her!  Back at home with the subsequent treatment and pain she experienced, I realized our travel days were probably over.  The combination of her physical condition and the advent of Covid-19 ended our travels.
But a glimmer of hope still lingered:  We talked about traveling to Antarctica; there were some countries in north-central Africa we hadn’t seen; and we longed to see the new Egyptian museum when it opens later this year.

Just dreams. 

Carolyn would talk on the phone for hours – longer if I let her.  She talked about our past travels, the Jeopardy!  Game show, or politics.  She loved to watch the cameras in the primate section of the San Diego Zoo, and she’d tell me about the latest antics of the orangutans, which were her favorites.
When I initiated a call to her, I’d usually begin by saying “How are you doing?”  Her upbeat reply was always “I’m alive and breathing!” 
We had an hour-long conversation on May 25th., talking about nothing in particular. 
Two days later Carolyn called – she just wanted to tell me about the conclusion of that day’s Jeopardy show.  We were both rooting for the current champion, Ryan, to keep up his winning streak. 
That short conversation was our last.

Monday, May 30th:  Carolyn had planned a two-night trip to Chicago leaving the following day.  She was taking her home-health care worker with her to see if she might work out as a traveling companion.  She was still going to try to travel.  

About 6 PM I texted her: “Have a good trip!”
Immediately I received a response from Carolyn’s sister, which began “June, Carolyn has taken her last trip…”  I was shocked, devastated, and sad, beyond description.  I felt physically sick at the news. 
Her health issue she’d told me about during our 2011 lunch had finally brought her down:  On Sunday complications from the obstructive hydrocephalus had appeared suddenly.  Carolyn had fallen, was taken to an emergency room, subsequent surgery to install a new shunt was followed by a major brain bleed, and twenty-seven hours later she was gone.
I am glad she didn’t suffer or linger in a vegetative state.  I wish I could have said goodbye, but isn’t that always the way?  We almost never know in advance the last time we interact with anyone.  
 Can we expect to think of that every time we talk to a friend?  I don’t think that’s a practical goal…still I wish I had known!

After over 270 countries and territories her travel days were over.  

She was a unique, complicated individual, formed as all of us are by childhood, family, married life, education, and career.    

Wherever she went she usually met with  
  • a wake of disbelief (most people she met were in shock at not just the number of countries she’d visited, but the unique places);
  • amusement (her duct-tape- covered suitcase, her inquisitive mind, her desire to photograph everything she saw);
  • respect and consternation (In the last few years she used a wheelchair and walker all the time, but she didn’t stop).
Certainly, I’ve never known anyone like Carolyn, and never expect to meet anyone like her again.  She enjoyed her travel life more than anyone I’ve ever encountered.  She truly lived large and was committed to her dream of traveling the world.

Toward the end… her “travels” were limited to Costco, Walmart, and Cherry Creek Catfish.  

Upon hearing the news of her death I’m pretty sure stock in American, Delta, and United Airlines must have plummeted! :)   

It’s hard to believe I won’t ever answer the phone again and hear her say “Can you talk?” It’s hard to accept there won’t be another trip to the Austin airport, no more trips to a provocative country.

Dr. Seuss once said:   "Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.”
I’m trying, Dr. Seuss, I’m trying.  But I do miss her very much.