Rockford man Bill Ravenscraft has a job that takes him around the world. He’s been to China, Tokyo, South Korea, Indonesia, Moscow, Dubai, India, Costa Rica, the Honduras, Hong Kong and Bogota Columbia.
A recent trip, on which Ravenscraft brought his local paper, was unusual. “Mostly when I go, it’s to one country and I stay there,” he said. “This time I happened to have several countries in one trip.”
Ravenscraft, an internal auditor for Amway, left early September. It was two weeks after a bomb explosion in a hotel and two days before an earthquake near his destination. “It was not too close, but it still impacts operations,” he said. Many who travel regularly for a living soon lose the excitement of discovering new places, but Ravenscraft has not. After more than three years, he still loves his job. “I have a little wanderlust. I like to travel and this job affords me that,” he said.
What Ravenscraft relishes is the chance to explore different cultures, atmospheres, places and food. He said he always does research on his destinations and creates a wish list of things to experience.
On his most recent trip, the first destination was Singapore, where he had a seven-hour layover. It was midnight, he was tired, but he grabbed a cab and asked the driver to show him Singapore.
Singapore, Ravenscraft said, is interesting because it was designed to be an international center for trade, so it is very metropolitan. “There were a lot of Europeans, it was very modern.”
He said he wasn’t very impressed with what he saw of the country. “I’m not a big fan of the bar district. There was loud music thumping,” he said.
The driver then took him through a residential area, and Ravenscraft was able to overlook the city at night. “It was a whirlwind tour, a three-hour cab ride for sixty dollars,” he said.
Next stop was Jakarta, Indonesia. Ravenscraft said he was hesitant going in because of warnings of Islamic extremism. There have been bombings targeting Westerners, and he wasn’t sure what to expect. “It was a fantastic trip. People are very welcoming, very accommodating. The weather was beautiful.”
Ravenscraft enjoyed the cultural aspect of the country: unique textiles and fantastic foods. He said he could eat the chili crab and black pepper crab all night. He said another food he tried, but failed to enjoy, was a durian. The fruit is so foul-smelling when opened that it is banned from hotels. “If someone opens one in a hotel, they’ll clear the floor,” he described. The fruit has a unique flavor, different from the way it smells, but not appealing, Ravenscraft said. He tried just one bite and agreed that it is an acquired taste.
On the other hand, the spicy, fox-faced bat he tried later was quite good. “The bat wings are one big piece of skin, so that wasn’t so good. The other bat meat was so highly seasoned it was hard to appreciate the flavor. It was just hot,” he described.
Ravenscraft had less luck in trying local fare in Dubai, located on the horn of Africa. He arrived during the Islamic holiday of Ramidan, where eating or drinking—at all—is forbidden in public. “They enforce it, too,” he said.
Ravenscraft was able to experience a dune ride in the dessert, which he liked, and a traditional Bedowin dinner. “It was skewers of meat, chicken, lamb, mutton, flat bread and lots of vegetables, so it was quite good,” he said.
The city itself he described as “soulless.” “It’s hot and new,” he said. The city is only 50 years old, void of much of the historic beauty other foreign cities are known for. Ravenscraft said the city was created as a place to do business and there isn’t much else to do. It has an indoor ski slope at the Dubai mall, and a big indoor aquarium. Prior to its growth as a business Mecca, the location was known for the divers who swim for pearls in the saltwater river. Some of that profession remain but the harvest is now mostly commercialized. “I was in the city for 36 hours and pretty much saw all there was to see.”
Next up was Moscow, Ravenscraft’s favorite foreign destination. There for a week, the Rockford man took in the history of the very old city with the blend of new Western influence. He said the streets are bad, but the city is an endless treasure of detail and history.
Moscow seems to have embraced the end of communism. Ravenscraft said he was in Moscow once when the world soccer championships were being held, and hotel rooms were at a premium. He had to pay $800 a night for a room, which his boss at Amway did not appreciate.
“They were under communism so long, now the capitalism seems to have no checks and balances. It is a very expensive city,” he said. A cheeseburger and a beer will cost you $50. On the other hand, the subway is extremely easy to navigate.
The history of Moscow is so rich, Ravenscraft said you can walk down a street you’ve traveled a hundred times and see something you never noticed before, a historic marker or bit of architecture. He compares it to St. Petersburg, and said this Russian city is much more European in architecture, atmosphere and design.
A 1997 Grand Valley University graduate with a degree in accounting, Ravenscraft didn’t plan on this traveling career. Married to an “extremely supportive and amazing” wife, Destany, a Rockford graduate, Ravenscraft is also father to sons Deacon, 2-1/2, and Cyrus, 6 months. He said he couldn’t travel as he does if his wife wasn’t the strong woman she is.
Ravenscraft said he’d like to take his wife along, but he works a lot while he is gone, so she would be on her own, plus they have to make arrangements for their children. It’s a plan for the future, though. “We’ve been married five years, and with child for three of them,” he stated.
Among his favorite travel sights have been the Taj Mahal, China’s Forbidden City and visiting Beijing before the Olympics. The strangest food he tasted was live octopus in peanut oil. That food is actually dangerous and requires careful, thorough chewing to prevent the animal from attaching its suction pads to the throat. “I’m always willing to eat what they put in front of me,” he said.
“I tell my wife, I want my boys to understand, it’s a small world in many ways now, but it is and it isn’t. It is also a great big world,” he said. “West Michigan, or even the United States, is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ravenscraft admits, however, that the sweetest part of a long trip is the return home. “As great as it is to travel, there’s no place like home.”
Visit Ravenscraft’s blog to find out more about his travels. It is strangetraveler.blogger.com.