If St. Nick had to do a lot of traveling this holiday season, the Enterprise-Record’s own Nick Ellena is not far behind in frequent flyer miles. Retired after 44 years with the paper, Ellena’s “Flashbacks” column has been a popular weekly feature; now, some 63 of them have been collected between hard covers and profusely illustrated with Ellena’s color photography.
“Flashbacks From Here and There . . . : Pages From the Journal of An Adventure Traveler” ($32.95 in hardcover from www.nickellena.com) takes the reader from the Vietnam War to the carvers of Kenya; from a Bolivian yo-yo craze to “Whymper’s Ghost.” As Tonya R. B. Dale says in her introduction, “Nick’s stories capture a place and time—as well as a thinking person’s perspective on what he’s seen.”
On the same page with these words is a photograph of Ellena “at base camp for Mount Everest.” Though Ellena has been pretty much everywhere, it’s clear from his accounts that mountains are his “peak” experience, reflected in his glorious photographs of Mt. Tocllarahu in Peru; Mt. Kolahoi in Kashmir; Lassen and Shasta; and many more. But he didn’t just look at mountains; he climbed them. Since his marriage to Gina, the couple has traipsed the world (and Gina herself contributes several chapters).
The columns are not arranged in chronological order, and several pieces of connected stories are scattered throughout the book. After several articles about South America early on, the reader learns later in the book that “in 1972 Mike Ramsey, then a cub reporter for the Oroville Mercury and now our acclaimed district attorney, hitchhiked, boated, trained and bused with me through Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. We parted ways in Sao Paolo when Ramsey preferred to show a young lady the lights of Rio than visit Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina with me.” Go figure.
Three years later Ellena was in Udaipur, India writing that “for some weird reason that may merit psychological analysis, I’d been enthralled by ancient arms and deeds of derring-do. In travels to places where they figure prominently in local history, it was fun to prowl the bazaars and dusty shops where an old piece of cutlery might be lurking at a bargain price.”
In June 1990 he filed a report from Gilgit, Pakistan covering, of all things, practice matches for a polo tournament between two local military units “in the thin air of Shandur Pass at an altitude of 12,238 feet.”
“Flashbacks” chronicles an amazing life of travel and the author’s sheer delight in people.