Traveler's passport seen in 100 countries From China to Kenya, councilwoman's trips earn her berth in club

June 29, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Even before she could read, Rebecca H. Harman would stare at pictures of Africa and vow to see the wild animals and lush vegetation for herself.

It took nearly 60 years, but Harman went to Kenya and back again -- three times since 1981. From her home in New Windsor, she also has traveled to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Tanzania, all nations that had not been born when Becky Harman was growing up on a farm in Frederick County.

At 80, Harman has just earned a berth in the Travelers Century Club, whose 1,200 members have visited 100 countries. Most members take a lifetime to accomplish that much travel, but Harman managed the feat in the 20 years since she retired from teaching.

"A hundred countries does not seem a lot, until you write them all down and look at all those passport stamps," said Terri Derby, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based club. "We have many aspiring members and a few members trying for all 308 of our destinations."

Harman recently returned from Bermuda, her 100th destination, and has no plans to stay home too long.

"Travel keeps you healthy," she said. "I can't give it up."

She has penciled in a trip to Sicily next year and the Canadian Rockies in August, after cataract surgery. Because Canada is a repeat visit, she can't count it in her quest for 150 countries and the club's silver award, but Italy can be 101st on her list.

Harman retired from teaching in 1975 to care for her terminally ill husband, who died the next year. They had saved for what they had called their travel years.

She plunged into volunteer activities at Carroll Community College and in her hometown, where she is serving her third term on the Town Council. But the world beckoned, and she had a lifelong wanderlust to satisfy.

"I thought I had to start before I got older," she said. "People asked me why I wanted to go every place. I loved them all and went back to quite a few. I have had many a tour guide tell me I was a great American ambassador."

After the Serengeti plains and Mount Kilimanjaro, she walked along the Great Wall of China and sailed the Chang River in a junk, whose six-man crew spoke no English. She saw Mount Everest, the Ganges River and Katmandu -- from the side car of a bicycle she persuaded a native to pedal for her. She snapped photos of Galapagos turtles, Andean llamas and koalas in Australia's outback.

"In every place I found something I loved, the mountains, the rivers, the culture, but most of all the people," Harman said.

She lost a tooth in Patagonia, which is the southernmost point of her travels. With no dentist available, she made the best of it, lisping all the way home.

"You can usually adapt to any situation," she said. "You just have to be careful of the food and the water."

She often stays in Elderhostels, which she recommends as the most economical option for senior travelers. She has never been reluctant to go alone.

"Most of the time, you find a way to afford travel and friends along the way," she said.

She carries giveaways: lollipops, ballpoint pens and pencils -- great icebreakers especially with children, she said. "I hope I am encouraging them to write," she said.

At every stop, she has added to her collection of dolls. It numbers more than 100 and includes improvisations, such as the tiny leprechauns she glued to rocks culled near the Sea of Galway in Ireland.

"They are all wonderful and have a story," she said. "They are the perfect thing to collect. They show everything that I have done with my travel."

When she moved to a retirement community in the town she has called home most of her life, she sold her china and crystal but kept the dolls. But now the dolls are traveling, too. Harman is donating all but a precious few next month to Carroll Community College, where they will be on permanent display in the school library.

"We are thrilled that she has thought of us again," said Diana Scott, college spokeswoman. "With every major function, we know we can count on Becky."

With its new amphitheater and art gallery, the two-year college is working to establish itself as the cultural center for Carroll County. "The dolls are one more way to entice people here," said Scott.

Harman usually leaves her itinerary with the faculty and the town mayor, who often drives her to the airport. She rarely misses a council session or college advisory board meeting.

"She would tell us she was off to Egypt or Morocco," said Scott. "She never went the usual places."

She did at first. Her initial overseas trip was to Germany for the Oktoberfest. After a few more stops in Europe and visits to several U.S. sites, she decided to broaden her horizons.

She sighed at the locales she wished she had seen earlier before arthritis stiffened her steps. She battles the crippling effects of the ailment with swimming and other exercise, favoring the treadmill and the rowing machine. She still reads the travelogues, too.

"New Guinea, Burma, Tibet -- I don't think I could handle them now," she said. "If only I had done them earlier."

There is always Sicily.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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