When Sandra "Sandy" Hazelip turned to Eleanor "Ellie" Hamby in advance of their 80th birthdays and suggested traveling around the world in 80 days, her best friend was instantly all-in.
“Ellie's eyes got big and she said, ‘Woo-hoo!’ She started making definite plans for that to happen," Hazelip told The Epoch Times.
That was five years ago. And the intrepid pair have since been to 18 different countries, across all seven continents. They've visited Antarctica, seen eight world wonders, ridden camels, zipped through Finland’s forests on a husky sleigh, and been caught in a wild storm crossing the Drake Passage by boat. They’ve boarded a tiny plane in Kathmandu, Nepal, and flown over Mount Everest; taken a hot air balloon over the Egyptian pyramids; and encountered a python up close and personal in Australia.
It all might seem like a far cry from everyday life in Texas, where they both reside, but the adventure-loving grandmas have always had a thirst for travel.
Hazelip, former president of the Texas Geriatric Society, is one of the physicians for Hospice of the Big Country in Abilene; she has written books and lectured on women’s health issues in several countries.
Hamby is an international documentary photographer whose work has been published widely in the United States and Africa; she also serves as the director of Zambia Mission, an organization providing much-needed medical care in remote areas of the African countryside.
The two met on a medical mission in Zambia at age 58, shortly after Hazelip’s husband, Don, passed away. Hamby is a widow to her spouse, Kelly, and both ladies call their late husbands the loves of their lives.
Successful and happy, both grandmothers are way too busy to consider retiring any time soon. “I wouldn’t retire from something I love as much as medicine,” Hazelip said, and Hamby is currently on her 27th medical mission.
The MemoriesSeveral years after they first met, Hamby and Hazelip progressed to becoming firm friends, and the explorations began. Describing themselves as “big budget travelers” they took three major trips before planning to travel around the world in 80 days—and on each of the three trips, "some big, wild things" happened.
Their first trip was the trans-Siberian train in 2008, which they booked second class. Unbeknown to the two Texas girls, they were witnesses to a crime that took place during their journey, resulting in their having to sign a lot of police documents. “That’s the longest train ride. We had a blast on that one; we always call it ‘Murder on the trans-Siberian,’” Hamby said.
On their second trip, through Southeast Asia in 2009, when the two were on their way to Shanghai on a public bus, a pedestrian was knocked down by their bus, leaving them stranded on the side of the road amid the chaos of the accident.
"[The police] gave us a flashing escort to a train station," Hazelip said.
Next, while in the Middle East sleeping in a Bedouin tent in the Syrian Desert in 2011, they had to escape across the border from Damascus after war started in Syria that night.
The World TripOriginally, the plan was to set off some point after Hazelip's and Hamby's 80th birthdays in April and August of 2022, but after making all their reservations, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
“But COVID did not shut us down,” Hazelip said. “Instead, we made our trip around the world in 80 days at 81, a year later.”
Fascinated by the Jules Verne novel-turned-TV series "Around the World in 80 Days," starring fictional English adventurer Phileas Fogg, the two set off on Jan. 11 this year, returning on April 1 to keep exactly to the timeframe. They circumnavigated the globe in one direction, beginning in Dallas and ending up in Australia, before flying back to the United States.
Arriving in Antarctica, their first destination, was a bit of a shock to the system. “January is their summer, but it was still, of course, very, very cold,” Hazelip said.
Then, also in January, the duo would set foot in Lapland in the Arctic Circle, during Finland’s winter. “That was colder,” Hazelip said.
First, though, they explored remote Easter Island with its mysterious heads—“a fascinating, beautiful, tiny little island” as Hamby called it—and spent some time in Chile and Argentina. Next, they took off to Spain for a welcome day’s jaunt on a hop-on, hop-off bus.
Landing in Finland hoping to see the Northern Lights, Hamby and Hazelip got an all-time thrill on a husky ride through the woods. It wasn’t exactly the gentle little ride around they thought it would be.
“When they gave the command for the huskies to take off, we went for several miles as fast as we could. We were just holding on for dear life ... but that was quite fun,” Hamby said.
They were fortunate enough to see the “impossibly beautiful” northern lights after spending two nights in Lapland. "My gracious! What an experience to see that sky light up with colors that we cannot imagine," Hazelip said.
Then it was time to go see the majesty of Rome before heading to London. From there, they flew to Nairobi and then to Zanzibar, in the Indian Ocean, where they were able to learn more about the spice island’s history.
A few of the locations they visited that stood out the most are Zambia’s stunning Victoria Falls and the pyramids of Giza, which they saw from the vantage point of a hot air balloon. The exquisite Taj Mahal, which they hot-footed it to after arriving in India on Feb. 25, was “just surreal” and a heavenly world wonder for Hamby to photograph.
"Absolutely beautiful. It was just amazing," Hamby said.
After their very Indiana Jones-esque small plane ride from Nepal over the Himalayas at the start of March, it was onto Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.
“That was where Ellie had the adventure of allowing a python to wrap itself around her body,” Hazelip said.
So after completing their trip around the world, which they succeeded in doing in precisely 80 days, did they stop and take a good rest?
“I went to work Tuesday,” Hazelip said.
Hamby said: “I went to work Monday. You know, people ask us, ‘Did you get tired, doing all that traveling?’ But we never did; we never missed a day. We never stayed in bed that whole time because we were too tired or something. We were either flying or we were out exploring and taking pictures.”
So, what’s next for the two best friends? Unsurprisingly, there’s another adventure in the pipeline, which they plan to undertake when they turn 82.
“In a heartbeat, we would do it again,” Hamby said. “Sandy and I love to travel. In fact, we are working on our next trip—in 2024."
Hazelip said: “When we plan a trip, we just plan to go have fun. But let me tell you, the added happiness of ... all the comments we’ve received from the public and the media telling us what joy we’ve brought into other people's lives as they followed us along on this trip, and how we’ve inspired others to get up and start doing something—this is so fun for us.”