Basehor couple goes off beaten path in world travels
Dan and Ellen Gray, who lived in Europe for five years earlier in their 28-year marriage, have traveled the to some of the world’s most popular as well as most obscure locations.
“I asked Dan to marry me, but only if he would travel around the world with me,” Ellen Gray said.
In conjunction with the Basehor Community Library adult summer reading program, the Basehor couple Wednesday presented “Escaping the Ordinary,” a travel program based on their extensive world travels. Whether taking a motorcycle trip to see or do things in their home state of Kansas, such as the largest ball of twine, or traveling to an island north of the Canary Islands where the only airport has the landing strip on a bridge, they certainly show no signs of slowing up. Another trip is constantly being planned.
Ellen Gray is the trip planner in the family. She said she loves to do the research and will plan trips for months looking for just the right things to do at their destination as well as along the way. According to Ellen, the more obscure the attraction, the better.
On a recent trip to Costa Rica, Ellen’s research led her to a howler monkey refuge, something that wasn’t necessarily advertised in well-known travel books. A woman who lived there became known as “the monkey lady” because she nursed baby howler monkeys back to health after the mothers became electrocuted by exposed electrical lines in what used to the monkey’s treetop canopy highway. Babies were left to die by the howler monkey families, but the monkey lady was able to nurse them back to health with the intent of reintroducing them into the wild when they were older. She only accepted a few visitors to the refuge each month, and the Grays felt lucky that their timing was right.
“I am also fascinated by mysteries and secrets in locations,” Ellen Gray said. “It can seem like a scavenger hunt and it makes our trip more interesting.”
Take a castle in England’s Hampton Court. King Henry the Eighth had artists carve the initials of his wife as well as his own in the woodwork. As King Henry changed wives, the artists had to find the old initials and replace them with the new one. A few got missed, and Ellen Gray set out to find them.
“Once the docents realized we had done our homework about the castle, they gave us so much more information and detail about the history of the castle,” she said.
With more than 40 countries visited so far, in addition to much of the United States, Dan Gray says that his visit to the Falkland Islands was probably the most obscure place he has ever been. The Falklands, which was involved in a dispute between Argentina and Great Britain in the early 1980s, has beautiful white beaches and native King penguins on its shore. The beaches have signs that indicate whether or not it is a “safe” beach, meaning the landmines from the war had been cleared. Dan Gray described sitting down on the beach and having dozens of penguins approach him to see what he was doing on their beach.
In their many years of travel, the couple has learned a few things along the way about how to be efficient as well as safe. Dan Gray always carries his wallet in his front pants pocket, and Ellen Gray doesn’t travel with a purse or fanny pack. They carry some of the local currency but mainly use credit or debit cards for their purchases. They are always aware of their surroundings and, after getting a briefcase stolen in a Paris hotel, have learned that one of them always needed to make sure they have an eye on their belongings. They also tend to pack light, knowing they can wash clothes in a bathtub.
For the Grays, picking their favorite place that they’ve traveled is a bit like picking a favorite child. They simply can’t do it. When pressed, Ellen Gray said that she really loved Paris for the art and cafes, but she also loved visiting the Greek island of Santorini, complete with its picturesque church domes, decorative doorways and beautiful architecture. Of course Lisbon, Portugal, was a top contender for the couple as well.
“We love to go to out of the ordinary places because that’s where you will meet out of the ordinary people,” she said.