Blog Archives

Diplomas I have Earned While Traveling

I travel because I  love to travel. I love planes and trains. I even love airports.

I am a travel blogger because I love to write. Hopefully you love to read what I write. That is the only reason I have a blog at all, because I really like the idea that someone, somewhere is reading what I write. I do not sell ads on my blog and never will. If you want commercials, go watch TV.

In the course of my travels, some of the adventures I have been on were so unusual, or so adventurous, that I actually earned a “diploma” for taking the trip. I was cleaning up my office for the first time since the invention of the internet and I ran across these four diplomas. I want to share them with my faithful readers, and of course tell you a short story about each one. So grab a beer and read on, please.

I earned this diploma the first time I crossed the Arctic circle. I had just been assigned to work in Prudhoe Bay, ALaska

I earned this diploma the first time I crossed the Arctic Circle. I had just been assigned to work in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska

Prudhoe Bay is 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. I spent 13 wildly prosperous months there. Yes, I was working for an oil company. I was young, I was greedy and I needed to make money to pay for my University education. It was a place of extremes. Not only an extreme salary, but depending on the season, either 24 hours of complete darkness or complete sunlight. I worked  84 hour weeks, 40 at my normally high wage, 40 at time and a half and 4 at double time. I lived in a construction camp where every thing was provided and I had no expenses. The money in my savings account piled up like the snow drifts in January. In the summer, after work, I fished the Sagavanirtok river and caught very large Arctic Char. In the winter I saw wild polar bears. In the spring I watched a three day migration of caribou. The tundra was alive with birds and flowers, or dead with ice and snow. And the Aurora Borealis, wow. When you are 250 miles inside the arctic, the northern lights do not appear on the horizon oh no. They are right above your head and they fill the sky. They make special patterns and the colors seem to chase each other across the your complete field of vision.

But the most amazing thing I saw there was TWO SUNS. One spring morning I was driving between sites when the sun rose about 10:30. I was pleased to see it, because there had been no sun for months that winter. Then, slightly to the west, rose a second sun. I was flabbergasted enough to come to a quick stop and stare. Just to be sure I was not completely losing my mind, I got on the radio and asked “ahh, does anyone else see two suns right now?” The answer I got was “Get off the radio Cheechako, that is a sundog” A cheechako is not nice term for a tenderfoot in the arctic, and a sundog is an atmospheric phenomenon that reflects the sunlight. But for a brief moment, I thought the world had changed forever.

In short it was a great choice I made to go there.

nazca

It took 30 years before I earned my next diploma, this one for a flight over the Nasca Lines in Peru.

The Nasca lines are, as far as I am concerned, proof that ancient civilizations were visited by extra-terrestrials. These lines cannot be seen from ground level. They are very large. The only way ancients could have made them is if they were guided from the air. The only reason to make them is to guide or welcome ETs upon arrival.

If you are skeptical about what I said, then explain to me why the ancients would carve what is obviously an astronaut, in a helmet, wearing a life support system, and waving hello. (This photo taken from alaudan.blogspot.com, which does a great job of explaining the Nasca lines

If you are skeptical about what I said, then explain to me why the ancients would carve what is obviously an astronaut, in a helmet, wearing a life support system, and waving hello. (This photo taken from discover-peru.org. The astronaut can be seen on the bottom  of my diploma, second from the right. Nasca has many depictions of  “earthly” animals, most of which are of a fantasy variety. There is even a whale, something just not found in the Andes.

At the time I was working in Peru. I went on a tour of places like Machu Pichu and  the fortress of Sacsayhuaman which is right outside of Cusco.

Sacsayhuaman is a very large complex put together with stones which are huge and weigh tons. On top of that they are cut from extremely hard rock, whch today we would have to use diamond saws to carve from the quarry. The ancients did not have diamond saws. Plus, they did not have the machinery to move them. On top of that they are articulated  to match the adjoining stones with extreme precision, and put together with no mortar? How? Ask ET, he did it!

Sacsayhuaman is a very large complex put together with stones which are huge and weigh tons. On top of that they are cut from extremely hard rock, which today we would have to use diamond saws to carve from the quarry. The ancients did not have diamond saws. Plus, they did not have the machinery to move them. On top of that they are articulated to match the adjoining stones with extreme precision, and put together with no mortar! How? Ask ET, he did it! (Photo courtesy of Andeantravelweb.net)

Another five yers passed before I earned this diploma for flying over Mount Everest

Another five yers passed before I earned this diploma for flying over Mount Everest.

This was an extremely magnificent experience. It is the first one I was able to blog about, and if you go back in my blog and choose Nepal, (or just clickhere) you can find many photos of this flight. I will forgo any further descriptions here. Go back and read the post. Suffice to say the flight is worth the trip to Kathmandu!

My last (so far) travel doploma was earned this year by making a tough trek thru the jungle in Rawanda to see the endangered mountain gorillas.

My last (so far) travel diploma was earned this year by making a tough trek through the jungle in Rwanda to see the endangered mountain gorillas.

Again, I covered this adventure in my blog. In fact, I made 7 posts and put up many photos. You can see them here. So, no need to say more here, navigate to the proper posts and get as good a vicarious experience as you can.

Thanks for reading and letting me brag. These diplomas mean more to me than My University degree. Tell a freind, and share on FB!

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Seven. The Gorillas of Rwanda

In this, the apex chapter of my safari to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, I will tell you about what can honestly be called a once in a lifetime experience. I trekked up a mountain to see the gorillas in the mist, and I do not mean the movie.

This is a walking stick the park provides you for the trek. Don’t try the hike without it. The gloves are not related to the temperature, I needed them because of the stinging thistles. I followed all the suggestions, and had a wonderful experience.

Curse Dian Fossey! couldn’t she have found some cute endangered species somewhere near a metro stop?
In order to see the gorillas, the entire purpose of 16 days riding on a cargo truck, you had to follow a guide, an armed man (there in case some other animal did not want you there), and two trackers. The trackers have an incredible job. They must follow the gorillas all day, then go back the next day and see where they have moved to, so that the guide can take the tourists to them. They move about a half kilometer a day before building new nests for the night.
The hike up the mountain was through impenetrable jungle, steep, slippery and boot sucking mud, stinging thistles and heat. I mean steaming, energy soaking heat. Just about the time my body was starting to rebel, the guide whispered  “the silverback is very close, shhhh.” I said out loud “yeah, where?”
He pointed behind me and there he was, a foot behind me, this incredible hunk of an animal. He actually brushed up against me as he went on his way, not at all worried that I was there.
Suddenly my fatigue was replaced with splendor. I reached for my camera and got a shot of him as he moved on.

This is the primary Silverback of the group named Charles Charles. He brushed past me and headed back into the thickets.

Then his family followed him. Two mature mamas a few teenagers and two babies. One of the babies was only a month old, the other seven months.

Mama with the month old baby which does not have a name yet. I wanted to name him Marley,

None of them paid any attention to us. Charles was leading them to a new feeding ground.
This group, our group, my group now, is called the Umubano group  Interestingly all 800 gorillas left in the world have a name. The park has a naming ceremony every year to welcome the new babies. Because of the conservation efforts made possible by each of us paying US$500 apiece to take this hike, (soon to go up to US$750) the gorilla population has been on the rise ever since Fossey did her work. The total population then was about 130. If I ever win the lottery I intend to donate to the foundation and have a baby gorilla named Forrest. Meanwhile anyone can help by joining the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
Following the gorillas is hard work, but they leave a trail of destruction as they eat their way through the jungle. They eat just about anything.

A teenager enjoying a bamboo shoot.

There are two very strict rules to adhere to when you trek into the gorillas.First, if you have as much as a cold,you are not welcome to go. Second, you are supposed to stay 7 meters awy from them. This second rule is impossible to follow, because these guys come right up to you. They are not afraid of humans anymore. The tourists arrive about the same time everyday and I honestly think that they regard us as some sort of a protecting force.

The babies like to look at themselves in the mud puddles as if to say “what do these humans see in us?”

My favorite picture out of 1200 I took on this safari. This is the senior female in the family. I have nicknamed her “Miss Rwanda”

Many more of my gorilla photos can be seen here.

I hope  you enjoyed this post. Please tell a friend and share.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Six

This was the day we crossed into Rwanda.
The border crossing was easy enough, but then the truck threw a dive shaft bearing and we were stranded by the side of the road.

Real Life Experiences is the marketing tagline for Intrepid Travel. We had one about 45 miles inside Rwanda. Suddenly the truck was making horrible screeching noises accompanied by the smell of burning rubber. No one was more surprised than I was when they pulled a spare bushing out of the storage racks. John, the driver is a very competent man, and two hours later we were on the road.

A man from Sacramento named Casey is a portrait artist and spent time sketching the kids.

Casey spent the down time drawing portraits of the local kids. They loved it and quickly learned how to pose.

I am sure these portraits are proudly hanging in the family homes.

 I took pictures with my Ipad which they laughed at when I showed them.

A hoodie in Rwanda. It must be stylish, because it sure was not cold!

Our first planned stop was at the Kigali Holocaust Memorial. It was OK, containing thousands of graves and an eternal flame. But this very ugly period of Rwandan life is not why I came here.
Onto the gorillas!
That afternoon, Intrepid delivered us to a place run by the Catholic church called Fatima. We are a half hour away from the HQ of the trek to see the gorillas. Compared to the rest of the places we have camped, this is five star.
Finally, after traveling all over equatoriana for ten days in a lumber truck, the gorillas!
In the next post I will give you a lot of pictures of these wonderful animals. Stay tuned, tell a friend, and maybe make a comment?

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter Five

We arrived at Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our campsite is called something like Hippo Hill and they say the hippos come in and wander around at night. The hippos left us alone.
The park surrounds Lake Elizabeth, which is pretty big. We went on a game drive  with elephants and lions and hippos and god knows what else. Then wewent on a boat that goes down a channel connecting Lake  Elizabeth with Lake George. We  saw crocs and other exciting African fauna.
We crossed the equator today, got plenty of good pics.

Me. I have crossed the equator by air and on land more times than I can remember, but it is always an important moment. To me anyway. Here I am doing my “truckin” act.

The gang, sitting from left. Alex, Karen,John, Robin, Pesh, Juma.Standing from left..the smartest man in the world, Charlie, Daniela, Cassie, Casey and Juliet. In back hamming it up, me.

My “upgrde” sleeping quarters. I was really tired of sleeping on the ground.

Sunrise, equatorial Africa.

Sunset, equatorial Africa

I think hippos are cute.

These might be my favorite birds in Africa. They are very colorful and have a great song. The males construct these hanging nests for their lifetime mates. If the female does not like it, she will not move in and the male must build a better one.

This bird is pretty special also. The African Water Eagle. He is quite the fisherman and beautiful to boot.

Now I always try to show bizzare restroom signs. Here are two I found near Lake Elizabeth

Women’s room.

Men’s room.

The next post will take us into Rwanda, where the Intrepid truck throws a drive train bushing in the middle of nowhere. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading, tell a friend and share, please.

Intrepid Gorillas, Chapter One

A while back, Travel Bloogers Unite and Intrepid Travel announced a contest to go on a Safari in Africa to, among other things, trek into the jungle and see the Mountain Gorillas. These are the giant gentle critters that were brought to the world’s attention by Dian Fossey.

I entered the contest and somehow, maybe I was the only person who entered, I won.

This was a 16 day safari through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and back. I had taken a wonderful safari exactly a year prior and I could not imagine that Africa had changed much, but I wanted to see the gorillas. So I accepted and signed on.

I must say that being  I  had won this trip and I was a guest of Intrepid Travel, I want to be nice. I want to be gracious. I’ll try, but this is after all an IRREVERENT TRAVEL BLOG. So I am going to tell it as I saw it. Please be aware this was my first and only experience with Intrepid, so pardon my ignorance.

First I want to deal with the name of the company INTREPID TRAVEL. Intrepid can be defined as audacious, brave, dauntless, and unfearing. Intrepid Travel is none of the above, except at times audacious. I’ll cover this audacious thing a few times in following posts. For now let me say that when I was young, I traveled in a much more intrepid manner. I went where I wanted, when I wanted to with no agenda except being sure I was back at University when classes started. When I set out I had a few destinations in mind, but transportation and lodging were all adhoc.

When you travel with Intrepid, every moment of every day is professionally  planned out for you, using years of experience a a guideline.  Where you are going, what you will eat, what you will see and where you will sleep are pre-ordained and as sacred as scripture to a Baptist. That is not really a complaint. It is very convenient for most people. Please remember, this was my first experience with Intrepid and I am certainly not too proud to say I am ignorant of the other thousand trips they offer.

The adventure started with the hotel Intrepid assigned us to upon our arrival in Nairobi. I will not say much about it except that I gave it the lowest level review possible on Tripadvisor. It felt great to vent my spleen there, I will resist doing it for my faithful readers here.

The group met for the first time on Sunday night before our Monday departure. We introduced ourselves to each other and ponied up the per-person US$1250 kitty. Very cute of Intrepid to call this a kitty. What it really is is the second half of the cost of the trip. You pay  the first half  when you register and that  is nonrefundable. That was the part I won. The trip notes clearly stated that they would not accept anything other than US$, and only in currency minted after 2003. Well, one of my hundred dollar bills was minted in ’96, and I figured, they cannot be too serious. They were. They would not accept it. Nor, as it turns out would it pass muster anywhere in Kenya.

As the group started the self intros, “hi, my name is…” stuff, one guy immediately started in on what I would learn to be an incessant urge to prove he was the smartest person on the trip. He told us all that he had convened with the world’s leading authority on tropical diseases and that we should all be taking one of three malaria medicines. I have been in malaria regions enough to know that if you are paranoid, use a lot of deet.

The group went to have dinner together, in the hotel restaurant.  People compared travel notes and expectations for our safari. When someone asked me why I was there I said that I had won the trip, and all I wanted to see were the gorillas.  “What about the game drives, all the animals?’ someone asked. “Been there done that, bring on the gorillas” was my response.

The average age of people on Intrepid trips is 36. This trip was probably right in that neighborhood. The oldest was a 77 year old woman from New Zealand, who by the end of the safari I rated as the heartiest of the bunch.

We somehow got a good night’s sleep. The next morning we met at “the truck”. I was only half surprised, the trip notes DID say it was truck, not a bus,

Yup, this would be the center of my life for the next 16 days. A close inspection revels it is nothing more than a flat bed truck designed to carry a 40 foot shipping container. It had “specially designed”  box built on it with storage for back packs and chairs to sit in. I spent about 90 hours in this damn thing on very poor African roads, swaying and bouncing and slamming against the windows like a rag doll in a washing machine. “Intrepid?”

Please do not be discouraged about reading the next chapters of this trip. In all, it was a wonderful experience, definitely outside my normal way of traveling, so any snide comments or cheap jokes I make are just me being irreverent. Intrepid is a very professional organization, and I thank them.

Please read on. When I take you with me into see the gorillas, you’ll know why you came, I sure did.

%d bloggers like this: