Traveling With My Brother
When Les Frey was born his older brother was already a teenager. Always running out the door chasing after the things every adolescent boy does, Steve never saw Les as anything more than a little kid. Thirteen years apart, the siblings knew very little about each other despite growing up in the same house on the outskirts of Denver. Before there was even a chance to discover mutual interests and common ground, Steve went off to college and Les was left behind.
Image: Les Frey (L) and Steve Frey (R) at the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, China
Years later, Steve was single and living in Hawaii. He had recently lost his favorite travel companion in the way bachelors often do, to a pretty girl and an inevitable marriage. About the same time, Les had finished grad school and, according to Steve, instantly became “a convenient travel partner.”
“I was on assignment in Hawaii and wanted to use my location as a hopping off point to Asia,” Steve said. “My first trip with Les was to Indonesia in 1991.”
That was more than 20 years ago. Since that time, the brothers have traveled to at least one international destination each year with several shorter domestic trips sprinkled in between. In fact, this year they’ve already taken three journeys together.
“It’s our goal to see as much of the world as possible,” Les says. “I want to go to all seven continents and all 50 states. So far, I’ve been to 72 countries on five continents.”
Ever the older sibling, Steve interjects to one-up his kid brother and adds his own count: “I’ve been to 92 countries and six continents,” he says, “all except Antarctica.”
Through their travels, the duo has learned that despite having grown up separated by time, they actually have a lot in common.
“We’re both pretty adventurous,” Steve says. “We love all kinds of cuisine, anything physical like hiking or climbing, and we’re both outdoor people. We’re less interested in museums and monuments.”
Les adds that they also enjoy culture, colors and local encounters–all of which they capture through photography.
“When we get to a place,” Les said, “we often wander away from the group to photograph the experience together. For us, it’s the images, rather than what the guide is saying, that stay with us and allow us to relive the moment.”
Those moments come pouring out in a peppering of memories, from the ancient Silk Road in Uzbekistan to the women in Mali who walked several kilometers with water jugs on their heads. There‘s a story of an amazing meal they shared in Kathmandu, and one about the thatched hut homes they visited in Kenya with a Maasai warrior.“I remember this one time standing arm’s length from the pyramids,” Steve said. “It’s one thing to see them from afar, but when you’re up close your eyes can rise up and up and you realize how massive each individual block is and how big they really are.”
Another memory was born in the early hours of a rainy day in Bhutan.
“When we woke up and saw the rain we didn’t think we’d be able to make the trip,” Les recalled. “But around 11 am [Travcoa Travel Director] Hal said he thought we could make a go of it.”
So in a heavy mist and a blanket of fog the brothers set out to hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. “Just as we ascended the mountain the fog lifted and there it was clinging to the hillside,” Les said. “The brilliant golds and reds of the buildings and the lush green landscape popped against the starkness of the granite rock. We were about the only travelers there that day because of the weather and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. We sat in the soft, twinkling glow of candle light and watched the saffron-robed monks as they prayed. It was incredible.”
For many adult siblings, the memories they share happen early and must last a lifetime, but for these brothers the relationship continues to blossom through their travels.
“Most families can say ‘OK, we had Thanksgiving dinner together this year,’” Steve said. “But when you’ve been to the edge of the world in Timbuktu, or climbed atop a camel and looked over at your brother and just smiled, that’s what’s really cool.”
Like pictures in a family album, these memories reflect the shared history the two have built: the rain dripping off the pine trees in a mountain temple in Xi’an, the way the intense heat bounced off the sand in the Sahara, and the smells and colors of a rural farmer’s market half a world away.
When the two were asked what they had learned about each other from their travels, Steve was quick to reply that “he’s a really nice guy.” Les’ answer, on the other hand, was a bit more in depth.
“I’ve learned everything,” he said. “I was only five when he left home. I didn’t know that person. But in the past two decades of traveling together I’ve learned what my family was like before I was even there and who my brother is. We’ve grown up together. Travel gave us that.”
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