Hello. I have been back home since Tuesday night. The whole trip was awesome, not a single mishap (ok maybe one or two). I have finally got around to uploading all of the pictures from the trip to my online photo album. To check them out, go here: http://photos.ruin.net/v/NewZealand2011/
I recently completed an all-day bicycle tour of the Marlborough wine region. It was clear and sunny but also very windy! I think I did tastings at 8 wineries and one brewery. Yep, a brewery! It is called Moa and all of the beers (lagers, pale ales) were very good. As for the wine, the region produces mainly white wines. They tasted great but I prefer red wines. Each winery did have one or two reds to taste but they always stressed the region isn’t best suited to producing reds. I thought they tasted great but I’m no wine connoisseur. But I had a great time and got wasted, so it was all worth it.
I recently drove to the fat south of the South Island, to a town known as Bluff. Bluff is the gateway to Stewart Island, which is a smallish island just south of the South Island. However I didn’t go to Stewart Island. There’s a walking trail at Bluff that goes to the southernmost point of the South Island, and that’s what I walked.
I also went to a town called Akaroa, near Christchurch. This town is unusual due to the fact it was originally settled by the French, so all of the street names begin with “Rue” and such. Pretty cool views.
Kia Ora! I hope everyone is doing well. I have just returned from a long hiking/camping trip in the South Island. I haven’t been updating because of lack of Internet access. I am now in Queenstown enjoying such luxuries as a hot shower.
The hiking trip was quite eventful, to say the least, and it included mountain climbing, nearly getting blown off a mountain due to heavy rain and gale force winds, a meal cooked in the traditional Maori manner underground with hot rocks, and a hike on a glacier, among other things. I’ll post a few photos here.
Don’t think this is the end of the NZ trip. There’s still more to come!
Today I walked through Tongariro National Park, otherwise known as Mordor because this is where that location in the Lord of The Rings movies was filmed. I walked the Tongariro Track, which is a 12 mile walk through this park. Included was a walk on the slopes of Mt. Ngauruhoe, featured in the LOTR movies as Mt. Doom. However I didn’t summit that mountain.
The hike took about 6 hours to complete and was quite steep both uphill and downhill. Needless to say I am quite tired, and don’t feel like typing this blog anymore tonight. So, here are the pictures:
Hello. I am currently at the gates of Mordor (Tongariro National Park) preparing to venture forth into that dark land. In the meantime let me share with you some pictures from yesterday. In the morning I took a helicopter ride to White Island, which is a volcanic island off of New Zealand’s east coast. Then I went to Lake Taupo and saw the famous Huka Falls and another geothermal park called “Craters of the Moon”. The craters were cool, a bunch of holes in a field releasing steam. Anyway I should stop blathering and let the pictures speak for themselves.
Today I did one of those “extreme” sports New Zealand is known for. I took a ride on a Zorb. A Zorb is a large inflatable plastic ball that you ride down a hill in, no harness or anything. It was a little scary and tons of fun. I chose to ride the “Zydro”, where they throw a bucket of water into the Zorb with you, so you get splashed constantly on the way down.
Apparently they also offer Zorb rides in Pigeon Forge, TN, so the next time you’re in the Smokies (or Rotorua) I recommend giving this a shot.
Hello everyone. I am currently in thencity of Rotorua, located on a geologically active wonderland. Rotorua is close to Mt. Tarawera, which erupted in 1886 and took many lives. Today this remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster. Yesterday I hiked for several hours in Waimangu volcanic park, and enjoyed a Maori “haka”.
The “haka” is a ritualistic greeting between Maori tribes. In our case, we were the “tourist” tribe and our Maori hosts were the other tribe. Yours truly was one of the warriors of the tourist tribe so I got up on stage and did a traditional warrior dance (no pictures sorry).
I discovered that the Maori have a rich culture. This is due to the fact that unlike other indigenous peoples around the world who would like us to believe they were peaceful natives before the Europeans drove them off (they weren’t, but bear with me), the Maori were violent savages who loved war and are damn proud of it. A Maori warrior would think nothing of cooking your heart and eating it in order to increase his “mana”, or energy. And when Europeans first visited the land, the first things the Maori asked for were muskets, with which they began slaughtering each other on an epic scale. This was one of the main reasons Maori population declined.
Once they got bored with killing each other, they decided to attack the British for the main reason that they wanted to see what kind of warriors these white men were. They held their own for awhile, but few could win against the British Empire at the height of it’s power, so they eventually had to surrender and swear allegiance to the Queen. When they weren’t engaged in war or cannibalism the Maori practiced slavery (including white slavery!). Na’vi they were not!
Ok enough history. Here are some pictures
This morning I visited the Kauaeranga Valley in the Coromandel peninsula and took a couple of short scenic walks. Then I went to a hot springs pool at “Miranda” and relaxed in sulfur-smelling water.
After that I visited the place where the filmed The Shire in the LOTR movies. I wasn’t really expecting much since I heard that most of it was torn down. However, since they are reusing that location for the new Hobbit movies pretty much everything has been rebuilt, in addition new structures are being built. It was a movie set under construction.
Here are the pictures:
Christmas day happens to be by first full day in New Zealand. Since almost everything was closed today, I decided to take a long drive around the Coromandel peninsula, located on the eastern part of the North Island. In addition to looking at stunning landscapes, I also visited a couple of noteworthy places. The first is Cathedral Cove, which is a natural stone archway on the beach. If you’ve seen the Prince Caspian movie (2nd Narnia movie), you’ll recognize the arch. There were signs everywhere warning entering the archway due to the risk of falling rocks, but as you can see in the below pic these warnings were mostly ignored.
The second place I went to is called Hot Water Beach. It is called this because at low tide you can dig little pools in the sand and they’ll fill up with hot geothermal water. Cool, huh?
So far I am liking New Zealand a lot. The people seem very friendly and laid back. They tend to not take themselves very seriously or have unwarranted self-importance, both of which are signs of a healthy culture.
Well enough of my tl;dr, here are the pictures!
It is Christmas night, and because I had nothing else to do, I was able to crop the pictures I took of the Amazon river dolphins in Colombia. These were taken while on a boat in the middle of the river. They moved very fast, so picture taking was difficult. Only three pictures really turned out. Here they are:
I also uploaded the full collection of pictures I took in Colombia to my photo gallery (388 pictures total!). Check ‘em out at http://photos.ruin.net.
I’m back in Cartagena now (I’ve been in Leticia in the Amazon for the past few days), and today is my last day in Colombia – I fly home tomorrow. Colombia is a great place to travel to – tons of stuff to do. I’ve just scratched the surface, really. I wish I had spent more time in Bogota – it looked very pretty from the plane – it sits high and is surrounded by mountains, thus it has a temperate climate. It reminded me of Denver. I hear Medellin is very nice, also.
Now, I leave you with more pictures from the Amazon. I got some pictures of the river dolphins too, but I need to edit/crop those before I can post them. In the meantime, enjoy these:
I’ve made it to Leticia, a small town in the south of Colombia along the Amazon river. In the middle of the rain forest. As you can imagine, internet connections are a little slow here – I’m amazed I can get connected at all.
Today I went to “Monkey Island” which is an island in the Amazon river. Yes, the river is so big it has islands. Anyway, true to its name, Monkey Island is full of monkeys. And if you bring a few bananas you’ll find yourself quickly mobbed by them.
Now then, on to the pics. I’m only going to upload a few due to internet slowness, but I promise they’re the best!
Yesterday I visited Cartagena’s Spanish Inquisition Museum, housed in the same building the Inquisition took place. The Inquisition in Cartagena had jurisdiction over the Caribbean region, the two other inquisitions in the Americas were in Lima and Mexico City.
While in Spain the Inquisition was primarily focused on recent Christian converts from Judaism or Islam (the charge being they were secretly practicing their old religion), the Inquisition in the Americas focused mainly on native (Indian) converts, but also Witchcraft.
If you found yourself accused of Witchcraft by the Inquisition in the 17th century, you could be expected to be asked the following questions as the Inquisitor spills your guts out:
1. Since when have you been a witch?
2. Why did you become a witch?
3. How did you become a witch and what happened on that occasion?
4. Whom did you choose as your partner?
5. What is his/her name?
6. What is the name of your master amongst the evil spirits?
7. Which is the oath that you have had to render to him?
8. How and under what terms have you done it?
9. What fingers did you have to rise?
10. Where did you celebrate your wedding?
11. What demons and people attended your wedding?
12. What foods did you eat?
13. How was it served on the table?
14. Were you also sitting down at the table?
15. What kind of music was played? What were the dances? Did not you dance?
16. Who was assigned as your partner at the ceremony?
17. What mark did your partner make you on your body?
18. What evils have you caused? To whom and How?
19. Why did you cause this evil?
20. How can it be remedied?
21. What kind of herbs, potions, and other means, can be used to cure the curse?
22. To which children have you cast the spell of the “evil eye” and why have you done it?
23. What animals have you killed or put under a curse? And why have you done it?
24. Who are your associates for/in evil?
25. Why does the devil strike you blows at night?
26. How do you compose/prepare your ointment or witches’ brew?
27. How can you fly through the air?
28. What words do you pronounce when you fly?
29. Are you flying so fast?
30. Who has taught you to fly?
31. What worms and caterpillars/slugs have you created?
32. What do you use to make these harmful/noxious animals (worms and caterpillars/slugs) and how are they created?
33. Has put the devil a bow/ribbon on/to your curses/oaths?
Here are some pictures from the inside of the museum:
Tomorrow I go to the deep, deep Amazon jungle. Hopefully soon I will have some wildlife pictures of some sort.
I am back in Cartagena after spending two nights sleeping in a hammock on Playa Blanca (White Beach)…arguably one of the best beaches in Colombia.
This beach has no luxury hotels or resorts by it. In fact, it has no electrical grid at all. This made staying there almost like camping. It was quite nice to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean waves.
Now, the best pictures anyone can take at a beach are sunsets or sunrises – whichever occurs on the oceanic horizon. In this case it was sunsets. One can find thousands of pictures of beach sunsets by doing a simple Google search, and from these the pictures I took do not distinguish themselves in any way. However, I post a few of them here anyway, for lack of anything else worthwhile to post. So enjoy these extraordinarily average sunset pictures.
I took a ride on a Chiva bus last night. There were about 40 people on the bus plus the DJ/driver and the three-person band. It drove us around the city all night, all the while the band played music and everyone got liquored up. It made a couple of stops: first by the city wall where we danced, and then to a disco bar where we danced some more, until I stumbled back to my hotel at around midnight. It was a great time, I may ride one again.
Tonight I took some night pics around the city – I’m posting the few that turned out ok. Starting tomorrow I’ll be beaching for a couple days, so probably no updates for awhile.
Here’s what Cartagena looks like at night:
Today, I took a bath in Volcan del Totumo, which is a mud volcano along the Caribbean coast roughly between the cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla. The errie thing is that the volcano has no bottom, but because the pressure of the volcano is going upwards you float. So I had this feeling of weightlessness the entire time. Maybe it’s similar to bathing in the Dead Sea (I’ve never done that).
Anyway,we spent about an hour in the volcano, and afterwards they took us to a restaurant by the beach, where we ate and swam for another hour, and then back to Cartagena. Pictures of the mud bath are below. Now it’s time for me to take a late siesta, as I have a Chiva bus to catch tonight!
Today I managed to get myself lost in the maze that is Cartagena’s old city, so I took the opportunity to explore much of the town. Perhaps one of the most amazing things is how the different races, white, black, indian, and mixed race all seem to mingle and blend in together in the colorful life of the country. Colombia may have its er…problems, but racism doesn’t seem to be one of them. And of course, I took more pictures today. Here are some of them:
I arrived in Cartagena at about 3:30 in the afternoon. I milled around a bit, did some shopping, and then took some quick pictures around the hotel as the sun was going down. Along the equator, once the sun goes down, it gets dark FAST. Am tired but will probably try to go out later, in the meantime, enjoy these pics.
Trip is less than two days away. Thought I had everything together, but now I find myself reconfiguring everything in my backpack because I have decided to visit the Amazon rain forest while in Colombia. So, nice clothes for salsa dancing…out! Long pants, long sleeve shirts, and binoculars…in! There’s just one word to describe the way I feel. Meh!
Nothing much else to say here, but I just felt the need to write something on the minus two week mark, and stay away from drugs, mkay. That is all.
Looks like my next trip will be to Colombia. “Colombia?!”, you say? Yes indeed, the country spelled with TWO o’s and no u. “But aren’t there like, drug lords and terra-ists there and stuff? You could get kidnapped!”
Yes, the country did have something of a problem in the recent past. But with the help of massive U.S. aid – in the form of guns and cash (used to buy more guns) -, things have actually gotten a bit safer in Colombia. Well actually, we just drove the nastier problems further north; to the Mexico-U.S. border, to be precise. But for now, everyone is happy in Colombia – except perhaps the FARC (local commies) who have been losing ground and fighters for years. But that’s all just sour grapes.
But safe or not, Colombia is an absolutely beautiful country – with nice people, white sand beaches, old colonial cities, and excellent food. Hey, at least that’s what the brochure says! In fact, Colombia’s newest slogan to attract tourists is “Colombia: The only risk is wanting to stay”. I think that’s awesome.
But only a fool would think it’s totally safe. Being dilligent and aware of your surroundings are the keys to having a safe, enjoyable trip anywhere. Hopefully, I won’t encounter what author Robert Young Pelton once called “The Four Horsemen of Colombia’s Apocalypse” – Crime, Cash, Cocaine, and Communism.
Been making a list of some of the stuff to do there. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
- Spend 2-3 nights on a white sand beach. Yes – ON the beach. No resorts, hotels, or a power grid on this beach. It’s just me, a hammock, and my kindle.
- Ride a “Chiva” bus. These are party buses that drive around the city all night long. There is a bar and a band on the roof.
- Bathe in a mud volcano.
- Dance lots of salsa
- Maybe go elsewhere in the country – maybe Medellin or Tayrona Natl. Park (nice beaches, indigenous villages)
I’m going to leave the day after Thanksgiving and will be gone for just two weeks. Also, the day after I get back will be my 30th birthday, so I’m also calling this “The Twilight of my 20s” vacation. It’s when life will start to suck. (just kidding!) Will try to update again soon.
Oh yeah, I have some photos of Montreal that I haven’t uploaded yet, so stay tuned for those as well.
As I am writing this, war has engulfed the Virunga National Park in the DR Congo, home of the mountain gorillas on the Congo side of the border (I saw them across the border in neighbouring Rwanda).
Therefore, I decided to donate some money to support the park rangers and their families who have been displaced by the recent fighting. They risk their lives to protect the gorillas and are now living in refugee camps in squalor. I gave money, and you can too by going here. You can specify that your small donation goes to the rangers, fuel for vehicles, etc. Also make sure you enter in your amount under the “one-time” donation section, unless you want to donate monthly.
This is about all I can do from here. I hope the rangers and gorillas get through this ok.
I finally put the pictures I’ve taken on my online photo album. They can be found at http://photos.ruin.net/v/Africa2008.
I hope you enjoy them!
I am back in Windhoek now. I fly home tomorrow (arriving home Monday afternoon). Before I go, here are the Etosha pictures I have long promised. I took around 500 pictures there, here are a few select ones. I will put the rest up on the album when I get home.
First, some giraffes:
On the first night I saw a rhinosaurus. It was the only rhino I saw in the park.
Zebras were everywhere:
As were Impala
Herds of buffalo roamed the grasslands
And now, for the elephants!
This is the old looking elephant that kept staring at me. A bit scary isn’t he
A herd of elephants:
I also saw some kitties:
This one thought that SOMETHING looked delicious:
This lion is guarding a zebra carcass
Some ravens (I guess they’re ravens) are trying to get a bite.
But the lions aren’t sharing. Kitty pounces!
Looks like the ravens will have to go without dinner for tonight.
A sunset in Etosha
An Etosha sunrise:
Once I get home, there will be many more pics from Africa (probably over 1000!) in my online photo album, http://photos.ruin.net. I will post an update once they are up. Stay tuned!
If yesterday was the day of zebras, today was the day of elephants. Today a big and old looking elephant came up to my car and stared at me for a few minutes. I thought he was going to bash my car for a second but he didn’t. Maybe he was just curious?
Later on I saw a herd of elephants near a waterhole, with little ones. I also saw more lions. They were very close, and they looked as if they were considering having me for dinner.
I drive to Windhoek tomorrow. Once I get there I should post some pics.
Today I did about 7 hours worth of driving through Etosha National Park, and there is still much of it I haven’t explored.
It was like watching the discovery channel live. Herds of wild zebra are everywhere, along with tons of elk (at least they look like elk, maybe they’re springbok). I also saw a couple of elephants, a pack of hyenas fighting over some animal carcass. Oh yeah, I also saw some lions. Two of them were guarding a zebra carcass they just felled. Ravens were trying to get a piece of it, but the lions weren’t into sharing, so they kept pouncing on the ravens when they got too close.
I of course got lots of pics, but I can’t post any until I get back to Windhoek (thanks Steve S. for the zoom lens. It’s a godsend).
Hopefully I’ll see a leopard tomorrow.
I am here, in Etosha National Park, safaring. I haven’t really done much game driving yet, but there is a waterhole near the camp, at which I saw wild zebras, giraffes, and even a rhinosaurous. So I have many great pictures already (no elephants yet though). I’ll try to post some once I’ve finished (the only internet connection here is cell phone, which is very expensive while roaming).
I’m not actually camping like I planned, I’m staying in a chalet. And (rather absurdly) I am driving a Mercedes on the safari instead of a 4×4 (that’s another long story). But you actually don’t need a 4×4 in Etosha – the terrain is either gravel or salt.. In other parts of the country you do though.
If I see anything truly mind blowing tomorrow I will try to post an update.
Southern Africa (namely, South Africa and to a lesser extent Namibia) has a certain “edginess” to it which I don’t really like. It seems wherever I go there are private security companies advertising ARMED RESPONSE for any attempted break-ins. It seems that almost every property owner has hired these security companies. They probably have little choice due to the high crime. Electric fences are also popular decor.
The crime rate aside, Cape Town is a pretty nice place. I actually stayed in what Tim Brown would call a “right-wing suburb” known as Camps Bay. It has an excellent beach although the weather was a bit cold, with some periods of rain. Here are some pictures.
This mound is known as “Lion’s Head”
Some Camps Bay sunsets (it was rather cloudy):
I am now in Namibia – in the capital Windhoek. I like the name of this city because it sounds like “Ren Hoek” from Ren & Stimpy. I’ll be spending a few days here relaxing, and then a few days on safari, and then I finally fly home.
This city isn’t really that interesting. It’s Southern Africa with a German flavor (lots of German speakers and German street names). Speaking of street names, one funny thing I did find was some of the streets that are named after dictators:
(You may need to click on the pic to enlarge it in order to read the sign)
I’ll try to blog while on safari if I get a good signal. Otherwise, I’ll blog when I return!
My checked luggage, which survived intact hopping flights between Rwanda and Ethiopia, and between Ethiopia and Johannesburg, South Africa, mysteriously vanished while in the custody of South African discount airline Kulula.com. It was supposed to be in Cape Town, where I am now, but it has yet to appear.
Luckily it was mostly clothes, I still have the most important stuff. Everything else can be replaced if worst case happens and the luggage is gone forever. Still a damn inconvenience having to buy some additional stuff.
Oh well. Only thing I can do wait and see if the stuff shows up.
Update: my lost luggage just showed up at 11pm. Now I can rest easy!
As I get ready to leave for South Africa tomorrow, I wanted to post some final thoughts and pics from Rwanda. After the gorilla trekking, I’ve mostly just been sitting here drinking beer and eating at nice restaurants. But I did visit the Rwanda Genocide Museum, which is a truly disturbing memorial to the hundreds of thousands that died during the 1994 genocide.
The first part of the museum was dedicated to other genocides that have occured around the world – such as the Holocaust, Armenia, Bosnia, and Cambodia (I visited a genocide memorial there as well, too many of these throughout the world).
The second part consists of profiles of some of the children that died during the genocide. The descriptions are very short and to the point, reading something like this:
Name: Francine Murengezi Ingabire
Favorite sport: Swimming
Favorite food: Eggs and chips
Favorite drink: Milk and Fanta Tropical
Best friend: Her elder sister Claudette
Last Words: “Help Mom’ma”
Cause of Death: Hacked by Machete
The third part of the museum is the memorial garden, where hundreds of thousands of people have been buried in a mass grave.
Here, as well as in Cambodia I have wondered how people who are seemingly nice and friendly now could have committed mass murder so recently. The only answer I have is that perhaps clues could be found in the famous Milgram Experiment, which seemed to show that ordinary people are capable of doing terrible things given the right [wrong] circumstances. I have no other explanation as to what would drive neighbors to kill neighbors, doctors to kill patients (and vise versa).
Here is a picture of the Hotel Milles Collines, in which the events depicted in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” took place:
A picture of Kigali (taken from the Genocide Memorial):
I may not have much more to write about this week because I’ll likely just be sitting on a beach in Cape Town. But if something noteworthy happens I’ll blog about it!
Hey all. I’m still in Rwanda. Not much going on for me right now, just pretty much relaxing.
I’ve told you I would post some Kili pics, and here they are. When I get home I will post all of the pics I’ve taken on my photo album (http://photos.ruin.net). Enjoy these in the meantime.
Kibo Peak (the tallest of Kilimanjaro’s three peaks) is still very distant.
A shot of Kili in the moonlight:
Things got a bit cloudier
But we journey onwards…
Another nice shot of the mountain:
And the sun has set:
I think this is where the moon landing was filmed
Into the mist:
We encountered some elephant bones on a mound
Another nice shot of Kibo:
We began walking in the clouds
This is the Lava Tower at the Day 4 camp
Another shot of Kilimanjaro during dusk:
This part of Kili is known as the Western Breach – a valley inside of a mountain.
We woke up to discover we were above the clouds!
Kibo is very close now
Also, a shot of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second highest peak
After over 5 hours of steep walking, we reached an area known as Stella Point at sunrise. Uhuru peak, the summit, is very close now.
And we made it. Extra credit if you can identify Yours Truly
The glaciers near the top are pretty spectacular as well
That is all I have for now. I hope you enjoy!
Today, I, along with 7 others, visited the Hirwa group of mountain Gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The Volcanoes National Park is part of the Virunga region, which stradles three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Diane Fossey spent her research on the Rwanda side, in Volcanoes National Park.
The Hirwa group (the name means “lucky”) is a relatively new family, formed only within the past 2 years as its leader and sole silverback (or alpha male), Munyinya, broke away from the larger Susa group with several females, and formed his own clan. Now, the Hirwa group has grown to 12 members – 6 females, 5 children, and, of course Munyinya himself, the undisputed leader of the group.
The gorillas live on the slopes of the volcano known as Sabinyo. The summit of Sabinyo is in 3 different countires, due to ill-defined borders. Here is a picture of us walking towards Sabinyo:
To make our way to the group we had to work our way through farmland, woods, and then thick brush which required a machete to navigate. But the trackers quickly found the gorillas, and the first ones we encountered were a mother and her child:
Afterwards, we saw a couple of the other children playing:
Then we decided to go find the the leader himself, Munyinya. While he was quickly found, he reacted a bit coolly to us. As we were taking his picture he stared at us with a hint of disdain and contempt, as if seeing us was one of those boring courtly duties he had to perform.
But he quickly had enough of us and decided to get some beauty rest:
Munyinya has good reason to relax. As the only Silverback, or adult male, in the group, he is the undisputed leader, and has mating rights to all of the females. However, this will likely change as the children grow up and as the group grows.
After leaving Munyinya, we only had 10 minutes left so we decided to try finding the rest of the gorillas. They seemed to be scattered around as the trackers took awhile to find them. But we were able to see more of the children, including this little guy, who decided to get real close to us:
And then, sadly, it was time to leave. After we walked back to the park office, I got a certificate saying I visited the gorillas. Yay! I think I’ll continue to follow the progress of this group, as they seem to be one of the up-and-coming families in the VIrungas.
I haven’t posted any Kili pics yet because things have been pretty hectic for me the past few days. But don’t worry, they will come!
Well I am happy to report that I summited Kilimanjaro. Not much to say except it was a VERY difficult and long day. But I am glad it’s almost over (we still have a 3 hour walk to the final camp, ugh).
When I get a chance I will post some pictures.
Written on 9/14/08 at 2:05pm local time (7 hours ahead of EDT)
Altitude: 15247 feet
I have made it to the sprawling Barafu camp, which is the last camp before the summit. We start for the summit at around midnight tonight. Not much to say about today except the rest of the day is for resting.
Hopefully when you next hear from me I will be at the summit.
Written at 7:15pm on 9/13/08 local time (7 hours ahead of EDT)
Altitude: 12840 feet
Today was a long day of walking. But thankfully I am feeling better, since I have caught up on some much needed sleep. The camp I’m at now is called Kuranga, which is a bit lower than yesterday’s. But the summit is close, in fact, we start ascending to the summit tomorrow night at around midnight.
Today while walking we ran into an annoying group of lesbians. I think the reason they’re suspected to be lesbians is because there isn’t an attractive one among them. They were so loud the entire group sped up just to get away from them.
Well, it is late (7:15pm, haha) so I am going to bed soon. Stay tuned for more tomorrow.
Written at 5:24pm on 9/12/08
Altitude: 15195 feet
Today was another hard day of steep walking. Even though I finally got some decent sleep last night, I still struggled a bit climbing to a place called Arrow Glacier. This has made me question again if I will make it to the summit, which is supposed to be much worse. I will have to hold out as long as I can.
I am going to try to offload some of my carryon items which I probably won’t need (camera bag, tripod).
Anyway, I guess we’ll see how it works out.
Written on 9/11/08 at 2:15pm local time (7 hours ahead of EDT)
Altitude: 13676 feet
I admit that day 3 started out on a real negative note. I did not get much sleep the night before (I think about 4 hours total), and my stomach felt like it was tied in a knot and I had a loss of appetite (but no nausea). Sleeplessness and loss of appetite are both symthoms of altitude sickness, so I began to doubt that I would make it to the summit.
However both these sympthoms subsided soon after I began walking again, giving me some hope. We ascended to about 4800m today, before going back down to camp which is about 4100m. I did some of the hardest climbing of the trek today, ascending a place called Lent Hills. And I feel perfectly fine now (though sleepy), and my confidence that I’ll summit has been greatly restored.
I am going to take a nap now to catch up on some sleep. Please wish me the best.
Written at 5:40pm local time (7 hours ahead of EDT)
Altitude: 12750 feet
I am now at day 2′s camp (Shira camp). Today’s walk lasted about 6 hours and was very pleasant, despite some steep climbing at times. The weather was also sunny and nice, and it only started raining once we reached camp.
I’ll now tell everyone about the group I’m treking with. There are 11 of us, not including the staff. Since I booked this with a UK company, most of the group are British, the only exceptions being myself and a fellow from Singapore. Horribly, I find that I’m starting to pick up the accent.
Our guide has the unusual name “Happyson”, which I have decided to change to Happy-san (Mr Happy in Japanese). Although I don’t think he’s picked up the distinction.
I also had my first altitude headache today, but it was mild and has now subsided.
At each camp we are required to sign in and fill in info about ourselves, including occupation. Today, I decided to list “Vagabond” as my occupation. I may decide to be a Pirate tomorrow.
This is turning out to me a really fun trip, and I’m having a blast. I hope everyone back home is doing ok!
Written at 2:40pm 9/9/2008 (7 hours ahead EDT)
Altitude: 11545 feet
I obviously have no Internet access here at camp 1, but I’m writing these now and will publish all of them the next time I have net access.
The walking for day 1 is done. We only walked a couple hours but it got cold fast. then the rain started which continued until it got so cold it turned into sleet. they gave all of us a boxed lunch before we left, which consisted of something which resembled a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, though it was somewhat lacking in both. it had a candy bar, angel food cake, and an egg.
I slipped while climbing up some of the wet rocks, luckily I was caught by the person behind me. I need to avoid doing that in the future.
I am settling in my tent now, sleet is still coming down pretty hard.
That’s all I have for day 1, day 2 follows.
After about 30 hours of exhausting travel, I finally made it to Arusha, Tanzania. The scenery is pretty here, all the plants seem to have a brighter colors to them (especially the greens). I saw Kilimanjaro dominate the horizon while flying here, I just can’t believe I’m going to try climbing that!
I also found out that I forgot to pack any gloves whatsoever. Shit! Luckily I can borrow a pair.
Today is the last day of “rest” before the climb starts. I’m busily organizing my pack and figuring out what to take and what to leave behind.
The organizer says the success rate on this route (Shira) is about 85%, so that’s encoraging.
It is dinner time now. Hopefully I will be able to post further reports on the mountain.
Waiting at the airport for my flight to Paris. I have to spend 9 hours there, and then fly to Kenya.
I decided to wear the same clothing I’ll be wearing on Kilimanjaro just in case my bags get lost. Which seems to be a higher probability these days.
I’m hungry so I’m going to find some food before being subjected to the airline’s lack of service.
Well it definitely seems like Hanuman, the monkey god, is conspiring against me:
- Two weeks before the start of my vacation, I suffer a bicycle accident, just barely escaping serious injury but hurting both my wrists.
- This morning, I woke up with that “stiff neck” that sometimes happens to me. It’s painful to turn my head now. This usually lasts 1-2 weeks. It had better go away soon. Maybe I should try hiring a massage therapist.
I am crossing my fingers, hoping I suffer no more injuries between now and Saturday.
Last week a friend of mine (who I’ll only call BDS) was in Dayton and happened to see John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” bus parked in a parking lot. So he did what any of us would have done and took some pictures. However the fact that he was legally photographing from public property was frowned upon, and he got stopped by a bunch of cops, the SWAT team, and the secret service. This incident, along with his association with a known subversive, will undoubtedly ensure he gets added to all 1,031 terrorist and no-fly lists the government keeps. However, we should not have too much pity for BDS, as he was quoted afterwards as saying “It did occur to us that if we were spotted we might be stopped.” Everyone must realize that you just don’t mess with the Straight Talk Express.
I got all kinds of shots in preparartion for my upcoming trip. Four, in fact. Yellow Fever, Polio, tetanus, and Hepatitis A vaccines.
They sure stung. Now if only there was a vaccine for altitude sickness or being cannibalized.
My planned itinerary:
- 9/7 – Day in Paris
- 9/8 – Arrive in Tanzania (Arusha). Day of Rest
- 9/9-9/15 – Kilimanjaro Climb. Itinerary can be found here.
- 9/16 – Fly to Rwanda. Sometime over the next several days I hope to go Mountain Gorilla trekking.Otherwise I’ll just chill.
- Sometime early the next week: I’ll fly to Johannesburg (South Africa) or Harare (Zimbabwe).
- If I go to Zim, spend a week there, visiting Harare, Victoria Falls, Bulawayo, and Great Zimbabwe. If in SA, dunno yet.
- Afterwards, fly to Windhoek (Namibia, formerly South-West Africa) rent a pickup truck and spend a week in the wilderness.
- On Sunday Oct. 5th, fly home.
Not sure if I’ll actually be updating this site a whole lot while in Africa. I will update my twitter (http://twitter.com/foxbat) whenever possible.
I’ve managed to compile pictures from the Mideast trip and other vacations into a full online photo album. The pictures can be viewed here: http://photos.ruin.net (I’ll add it to the links section).
I’m starting to plan my next vacation, which will probably occur around September this year. I’ll post again once I get some details worked out.
I’ve been back in Ohio since Sunday night. My last few days in Beirut were pretty much uneventful. Lots of places had closed Thursday or Friday to mourn the MP and the six others killed by the bombing on Wednesday. This surprised me somewhat, since I callously assumed that these things happen often over there, and are shrugged off, much like the weather. My hotel was directly across the street from the Phalange (Kataeb) party headquarters, which the blown up MP was a member of. So the next day saw a very noticeable increase in soldiers. There were also lots of media from various places giving reports there.
Overall my stay in the Arabic Mideast was very pleasant. The people are nice and welcoming, the sites are breathtaking, and the food is (mostly) good. I would absolutely recommend anyone with the means to visit these places. It isn’t as hard as you might think. Most people spoke English reasonably well, particularly those connected with the tourist industry. However it never hurts to learn some key phrases in Arabic, either. Such as “thank you” (shukran).
Now that I’m back home I’ve been busy. I’m having to go shopping, do what seemed like massive amounts of laundry, clean up my yard, etc. I bought an Xbox 360 and the Halo 3 game yesterday so once things settle down I’ll surely be playing that a lot. And hopefully soon I’ll be able to ride my bike again. Things are getting back to normal for me.
I encourage everyone to start following recent events in Burma (Myanmar). After over 20 years of living under a brutal, monstrous military dictatorship many Buddhist monks have began going into the streets in an attempt to peacefully bring down the government. They have inspired many ordinary people to join the protest with the hope of being free. They face the very real possibility that the government will crack down brutally. The regime will do anything, anything to maintain their power. It must be blotted out. The courage of the Burmese people has me awed.
Here is a blog from Burma with up-to-date accounts of events there:
Pray for freedom for the people of Burma!
Travelling in an overload minibus, Baalbek greeted me with posters of Hassan Nasrallah and the late Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran. It seems I have stumbled upon the headquarters of the Hezbollah movement. Fortunately it seems that even Hezbollah appreciates tourists coming to visit, and indeed there is lots to see here in the scenic Bekaa valey. Baalbek is the site of one of the most impressive Roman ruins in the world, with huge temples to Jupiter and Bacchus, the god of wine and luxury.
If the situation in Lebanon ever stabilizes, it will certainly become a big tourist draw thanks to the Baalbek ruins. Even though the site itself isn’t as large as Palmyra, there’s still lots to see. It was certainly worth the trip, and I have here some choice pictures from the site.
The main attraction is the massive Temple of Jupiter:
The Temple of Bacchus:
Other features of the site include a medeival fortification built to defend against the Crusaders:
There was a bombing here yesterday, and an anti-Syrian politician was killed, along with 6 bystanders. So tensions are now very high, with an election for president occuring next week. I leave the country on Sunday, so thankfully I won’t be here to witness what happens during that!
Hey all. I’m in Beirut now. I’ll just say the city really isn’t anything like I expected. It is the exact opposite of Syria in that it is very westernized. French influence is very acute here also, which is why it was called the “Paris of the East” with its many outdoor cafes.
I’ll be staying here for the rest of this week, probably making a day trip to Baalbek to see Roman and Phonecian ruins somewhere in between. Think I’m going to go get a beer now. Later.
Upon returning from an exhausting trip to the castle known as Crac des Chevaliers (it means “Castle of the Knights” and apparently you pronounce it like “Chevrolet” but without the ‘ro’) I was rather hungry so I decided to step into a restaurant to eat. I was met promptly met with the yelling of “no food! no food!”. I walked out rather bewildered, until I remembered that today is the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. And during the month of Ramadan, Muslims – and Hama is a very devout town (and was once a center of Islamic Fundamentalism – more on that later) fast during the day hours and feast in the evening – I realized this likely means no eating for me until then, either. So facing the real possibility of starvation I began contemplating foraging for food in the nearby garbage pile. Luckily, I managed to drag my weak malnurished self to a fast food place called “Ali Baba’s” where they were still serving people food. And so another crisis was narrowly avoided.
The Crac des Chevaliers was the base of the Knights Hospitallers, an order charged with protecting the northeast periphery of the holy land during the crusades. The castle has withstood many seiges, including a lengthy one by Saladin. Though Saladin was unable to take the castle, the knights were eventually tricked into surrendering the castle by a forged letter. The Knights Hospitallers continued on however, moving to the island of Rhodes until the Ottoman Turks forced them out in the late 15th century, then on to Malta until it was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th century.
Now..the pictures of Crac! This is a rather mediocre pic taken far away:
Pics around and inside the castle:
And finally, the toilets of Crac!
That’s it for today. This time tomorrow I should be in Beirut, where the atmosphere should be a lot looser than here in conservative Hama. Farewell!
I am in the town of Hama now (which is about 100km south of Aleppo). I am staying here for the next couple days. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow as I am going to Crac des Chevaliers and the nearby mountains.
I can now post pictures of some of the places I’ve been. First, Palmyra:
First picture is the Roman Columnnade(sp) street, second is (I think) the baths of Diocletian, and the third pic is the Temple of Baal (Palmyran god, equivalent to Zeus, or Jupiter).
I then stayed in Aleppo to the north for a few days. Here are some pics from that city:
The Citadel of Aleppo must have been considered an awesome fortress in its heyday:
And finally, here in the town of Hama are the famed waterwheels (or Norias) on the Orontes river. Constructed by the Byzantines, they use the current of the river to collect water and transport it to the aqueducts above, which then ran the water to irrigation channels.
Notice the RAINBOW on the lower right corner of the third pic.
That’s really all I have for now. Tomorrow I should have some pictures of Crac up. Peace!
…and still unable to upload pictures. Grrr. I do not expect to be able to upload any until I get to Beirut. Grrr x100!
Yesterday I went to the city’s old Citadel, which was the city’s central fortress and used by the crusaders and others to defend Aleppo. The inside of the citadel wall was neater than I expected, with many steps and cavernous passages. Since the citadel sits on a high mound it also gives great views of the city below.
Other than that I haven’t been doing too much, just taking it easy. Today I went shopping at the souks and bought gifts for mom and dad. I think walking through the souk is a good way to experience the vibe of the orient. All around you hear customers and shopkeepers talking to each other trying to agree on a good price – because there are no set prices in the souk. You bargain on everything. Also you get to see the great variety of items for sale. From tshirts to jewelry to spices and even goat carcasses can be bought all just a few feet from each other.
After shopping I went to the Christian quarter to eat, since this area is reputed to have the best restaurants in Aleppo. This part of town has narrow maze-like streets like the old city sections of Aleppo and Damascus and is quite a treat to just walk around in. I also carry a GPS so I don’t get lost.
I got some sunburn on my face from Palmyra, but otherwise I’m doing fine. Haven’t gotten the “travellers diahrrea”, at least not yet!
I’ll be in Aleppo until Wednesday, on which I’ll head to the city of Hama and the Crac (Krac?) des Cheveliers castle. I should be in Beirut by Friday.
Take care everyone!
Situated strategically between the Euphrates river and the Mediterranean lies a desert oasis like none other. The city of Palmyra (the word means “many palms”) was an important nexus of trade in ancient times. Silk from China passed through there and the Palmyrans became very wealthy, as the ruins show. Magnificent Greek, Roman, and Arab structures are just a few kilometers from each other.
I would post pics but I’m having a bit of a problem with the internet connection here. It won’t let me upload squat! Ah well, I’ll post em when I find a working connection.
I am in Aleppo now, another ancient but still busy city in northern Syria. I plan on staying here until Thursday, when I head to the city of Hama and the crusader castle Crac des Chevallers. It’s late so I’m going to head to bed. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I’m staying in the old Baron Hotel, which is famous because T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Agatha Christe both stayed here. It’s an old but spacious hotel. Anyway it’s getting late here so I’d better hit the sack. I’m glad everyone enjoyed the pics and writings.
As this is my last night in Damascus I thought I would put more pics up. I’m headed to the town of Palmyra tomorrow, which is an oasis in the desert where the Romans built a town and temples.
Just outside of the old city is this statue of Saladin on a horse, fighting of Frankish crusaders.
This is the entrance to the Souk al-Hamidiyeh, the shopping hub of the city. A souk is basically a street containing a line of shops on either side, selling various goods such as clothing and jewelry. There are also smaller more specialized souks, for instance there’s a separate souk which branches off the main souk that sells mainly spices, and another that sells gold.
Once outside of the souk at the other end I was at the old Umayyad Mosque. As Damascus was the capital of the original Islamic empire, this was probably the most important mosque outside of the holy cities during the earliest days of Islam. However, before it was a mosque, it was a church. And before it was a church it was a Greek temple.
The inside of the mosque is rather dark, but you can see in the center the grave of John the Baptist (who is also a prophet in Islam) .
And finally, some pictures of Old Damascus. Many of the streets in the old city are too narrow to drive a car through, which is quite a welcome relief from dealing with Damascus traffic.
After an arduous 6 hour journey by foot, bus, by foot again, and taxi, I finally made it to the Assadimite Kingdom of Syria…er I mean, the “Syrian Arab Republic”. This Assad guy does seems pretty popular. Indeed, the fearless leader’s image can be seen everywhere in Damascus: on taxicab windows, storefronts, buildings, and even road signs. That’s right, road signs. And I imagine it’s pretty effective. When the man that controls whether you live or die tells you to stop, you had damn well better stop.
All kidding aside, Syria is a neat place. The people are much friendlier than in Jordan, and the place just feels safer. I’m going to check out the old city, which is the ancient section of the city surrounded by the city walls. Oh, did I mention Damascus is nearly 10,000 years old? They say it’s the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world – though another Syrian city, Aleppo (which I’m also going to visit) is challenging Damascus for that title.
Here are a few select pics from the capital of Assadland:
I somehow ended up in the Jordanian capital, Amman yesterday. I was planning on taking a bus into downtown but when I found out they closed the central bus station and moved it away from the city center, I decided to bite the bullet and take a taxi to my hotel.
A couple of things I noticed on the way:
We passed a truck that had a big Taliban flag sticker on the side. I guess that’s their equivalent of our “War on Terror” bumper stickers. Didn’t get a pic though.
Anyone associated with the King gets to put emergency lights in his car. If he flashes them, legally you HAVE to give way. It’s good to be the king.
I got woken up in the morning to the first call for prayer, which seems to be at 4:30am. Which after listening it for a minute didn’t really bother me much. The rhythm was eerie yet soothing. It kind of reminded me of an opera since, even though I didn’t understand the words, it seemed to be telling a story. It lasted about 15 minutes or so.
After all of that I got ready and hopped on a bus to Petra.
The Petra complex is BIG, much bigger than I first thought. You can spend up to an hour walking up steps carved out of rock to get to a single building. Of course there was the option of riding a camel or donkey around the site, which I regretfully didn’t take. And now, some pictures:
The Treasury facade is the single most iconic structure in Petra, and it’s the first building you see upon entering Petra city. It absolutely dominates the view.
Another significant structure is the amphitheater. It was originally built during the Nabataean period but was expanded during Roman times to accommodate the gladiator games.
The Monastery (Jabal Al-Deir) required about an hour climb to get to, but it was worth it. It’s facade was even larger than the Treasury.
Qasr Al-Bint was a Nabataean temple, and the last freestanding building (ie not carved into rock) still standing.
I’m planning on taking a bus to Damascus, Syria tomorrow morning. Hopefully in the next few days I can have pics from Syria up. It depends on my ability to find a decent internet connection, of course.
Is it safe? That is a question I am constantly asked whenever I talk to people about the places I’ve travelled to, whether it be Cambodia or Japan. My answer is usually “safe, compared to what” because it is such a relative term. How dangerous are our daily routines here at home? I consider driving an automobile every day one of the most dangerous endeavours a human can undertake, yet we think nothing of it. Over 43,000 people were killed on US roads in 2005. And just recently, it was reported that life expectancy here in the US has been falling in relation to that of other developed (and a few developing) countries. About 1/5th of the world’s nations have a higher life expectancy than the US now, including Guam, Jordan, and the Cayman Islands. This drop in the rankings can be attributed to unhealthy lifestyles and a health care system which not everyone has access to. So when travelling we should consider which will more likely kill you: three weeks in a foreign country or 20 years commuting in an automobile 150 miles a week while eating that egg & cheese mcmuffin, that Whopper, and those chicken wings.
The Middle East is constantly in the news, rarely for anything good. Especially since 9/11 and now the Iraq war, images of death and destruction from the Mideast can be seen on our TV screens almost daily. The image of the Arab people in our popular culture is of a race which is wholly resentful and bitter towards America and its people, and prone to acts of violence in the name of religion. While we have Bin Laden and his psychopathic gang to blame for much of the distortion, our various media outlets also must bear some responsibility by playing up their message and deeds, even though people that agree with them are in fact a tiny minority.
But the media can only give us an abstract view of the region. It does not let us smell the stenches and aromas, hear the frantic bargaining of the souks, or the call for prayers of the mosques, and not to mention tasting the food. Arab people are as diverse as we are, belonging to various religions or sects, different dialects, culinary preference, political views, and so on. I do not believe that very many of them hate America, or at least not the American people. I do fully expect many to er, strongly disagree with our government’s foreign policy, and I’ll surely hear many arguments about that. However they surely do not have the time nor the inclination to constantly think about America. They are busy living their own daily lives – raising children, going out to eat, grieving for sick loved ones – just as we do. You will likely see lots of pictures of various ruins on this site in the coming days and weeks – and while the ruins are great they are not the primary reason I travel. I travel to find out how people live.
See the Lion King smash the Fatah rats! Translated by MEMRI.
I hearby welcome you to the Ruined Enterprises weblog. Who are we? We are an army of intrepid bloggers whose mission is to bring you hard hitting accounts from every shithole on the planet Earth. That’s right, we go anywhere, from the opium farms of Afghanistan to the torture chambers of Zimbabwe, so you don’t have to!
Now, there are those who will ask “Hey moron, if you want to die, you can do it easily right here at home by playing in traffic”. While that may be true, well, it just isn’t our style. And style is everything in this business. “What business is that”, you ask? We’re still trying to figure out how to make money off of all this.