We hiked for four days between mountain huts in the High Tatras, we had large portions of the trails to ourselves. When we did pass trekkers, they were almost all Slovakian, or from neighboring Poland or the Czech Republic. The whole Slovakian experience was impressive. The mountain landscapes are beautiful, the mountain culture is rugged, and the mountain bars are open for breakfast.
Have you ever laid in your tent at night listening to the scurrying sounds outside your tent and ventured to see what was stirring? Night safaris are silent and spooky. You have to walk slowly and scan systematically with your flashlight for the reflection of eyes. Any sound requires careful inspection. It is never a good idea to stray very far from shelter. However, on our night safari in Tsavo East National Park, we learned that danger lurks in the campsite too, if you take the time to look for it.
Only defining the Kalahari as a desert is akin to only appreciating a diamond for its strength. The Kalahari plains burst to life after the rains. Springbok pronk in plains of finger grass, and kaleidoscopes of African Monarch butterflies dance around wild dagga flowers.
Travel to the Jao Concession to see the place that sits between earth and water, as a cloud does between air and rain. A flowing land made completely soft and flat by tens of millions of years of slit and sand. A place where lavender waterlilies bloom over rivers painted sangria red with tannins, or glowing aqua blue above the white Kalahari sands.
On my Kruger self-drive safari, I spent six days in the far north, seeing very few people, but also very few big animals, and that was a fine compromise. I found more packs of painted dogs and watched herds of elephants cross swollen rivers dyed red with earth. I watched birds, turtles and chameleons hunt. I was pleased to be happy in the north with such small sightings.
Ibo Island feels like an heirloom, passed from culture to culture through the ages. The Swahili, Arabs, Indians, Dutch, Malagasy, British, French and Portuguese have all left their imprint on the island. Some are harsh colonial scratches on its soul, while others are picturesque like the Swahili sails on the fisherman’s dhows.
This isolation combined with the unique geography of an archipelago on the east African coast really piqued my interest snorkeling Quirimbas National Park. I envisioned sailing between some of the islands with a snorkel and a fishing line and exploring the marine ecosystem. I found exactly what I was looking for on Rolas Island.
The most memorable part of scuba diving Tofo was the incredible visibility in the water. For my first time, I got vertigo on one of my safety stops watching divers about 25 meters below me circling around a coral bommie. It just felt like I was suspended in the air. These conditions were perfect for crisp underwater photography, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in it.
The locals have learned to navigate the tidal sand bars and offer trips from Vilanculos out to Bazaruto and Benguerra islands in Swahili dhows. We saw rare humpbacked dolphins and manatees on the way out. The islands combine the stark beauty of the Namib desert dunes with the azure water of the Seychelles.
We arrive at the Kolmanskop ghost town just after dawn, as the rising sun illuminates the dunes, but before we can feel its heat. Not only is there no one else there, there is no sign of anyone else having had been there for decades. There are no ticket booths, or tour guides. There are not even footprints in the sand, as the winds sweep the dunes back into place every day.
Flying over the Namib Nauluft National Park around Sossusvlei, you glide over artful wisps of star and crescent shaped dunes. They seem to be connected in long scripts as if purposefully painted by a calligrapher’s brush. For those that can decipher this “Sand-skrit”, they tell ancient tales of wind and rain in geological time.
These small beetles are the bottom of the food chain for a diversity of cleverly adapted desert animals. Most are miniature to limit their need for scarce resources, and have found ways to blend into the dunes, making their hidden worlds hard to find. However, all life leaves little signs in this world of misty moving sand, and those that have learned to read them can take you on one of the best desert safaris in the world.
The pinnacles, natural arches and piles of boulders of Spitzkoppe are famous challenges for African rock climbers, as well as spectacular landscapes for some supermoon photography. After hours in the land of the supermoon, we walked in single file back down the slot canyon, ducked through the dark cave portal, and arrived back in reality. We brought back images of a dreamland under a supermoon that had not been that bright since 1948.
Everyone giggled uncontrollably. The adolescences entered the crescent with more trepidation, moving across it quickly, more self-conscious of their movements. However, the women would follow with large arching leaps through the crescent to encourage them to express themselves more freely. In their small community, the dance seemed to say, show us proudly who you are, so we can support you.
Overall, the trip from Kasane to Maun was grueling with long days in the car, where anything you need is scorching hot and covered in choking layers of dust. Being self-sufficient for your vital supplies, relying on GPS for navigation, battling through deep sandy roads, and co-existing with wildlife at night means every moment is an adventure, and that is both tiresome, and invigorating.
For any adventurous wilderness enthusiast, self-driving through the Chobe and Moremi wilderness from Kasane to Maun should be on your bucket list. It takes careful preparation, but allows you to go explore some of the best wildlife areas in Africa on your own, and it is nothing short of incredible.
The Ebb and Flow of the Okavango Delta hen the water in the Okavango Delta is high, it is an alluvial fan with marshy islands in the middle, and finger lakes extending far into northern Botswana. Day lilies dot the water, and mokolwane palms and papyrus reeds line the waterways. The reeds are […]
Khwai is a tapestry of ecosystems, each with its own enchanting character. In October, the Khwai river is reduced to a stream. It flows slowly like silver solder into a groove, giving its surface a metallic cobalt sheen in the afternoon. On its banks, majestic elephants wade through marsh, ripping reeds in slow motion with their trunks. Hippos float in river bends, and wallowed cranes, and saddle billed storks poke around the papyrus reeds for a meal.
The Savuti sun seems to descend into the eyes of the lions, setting them aflame with devious focus. They emerge from the surrounding shadows to set ambushes in the dark. Even the elephants seem weary. In fact, Savuti is famous for a pride of lions that hunts elephants. An extremely rare feat, even for these king cats.
I stayed a week, and felt this wild park grow familiar. Sitting by the campfire and watching the sun’s glowing orb set over pods of hippos in the Luangwa river, and the stars float in overhead on a moonless night is the epitome of a wild safari. I do not know if there is a better place to do that than South Luangwa National Park. So, although it will always be a place where I will have to look all ways before getting out of my car, I am so happy to now have a connection to the ecosystem that will certainly bring me back for years to come. Now I know, South Luangwa was the park of my dreams.
While scrambling to Sapitwa peak is certainly worth the effort, it is a mistake to plan a quick trek to just do so. Mount Mulanje is a place to meander, sitting by the waterfalls, cooling beer in the swimming holes, and making fires in the mountain huts under the starry nights. We spent four days and three nights trekking Mount Mulanje, and felt like we needed more time.
Looking into the eyes of the hippos of Katavi, you can see the intense stress in their eyes as fights break out around them. Hippos are constantly opening their mouths in gapping yawns, which display their teeth as warnings to their neighbors. The fighting inflicts deep wounds on the hippos, which ooze blood and fester in the poo. Even babies are attacked or can get crushed in the heat of battle.
However, dawn brought bad news. In the darkness I had parked the car on the splintered top of a buried stump. I had punctured the tire, and now we were without a good spare. We would have to spend the next three days deep in the bush driving very carefully on treacherous roads. The drive along the Sand River in the north of the Serengeti revealed a professional safari car on its side in the middle of the river. The bloated bodies of trampled wildebeests floated around it. We imagined the havoc that must have ensued.
Lake Natron might be the most beautiful place you never want to visit. The images of desert snow, hidden waterfalls in slot canyons, and neon red waters full of flamingos were enough to ignite our expedition there. It is stark beauty at its best, but unfortunately, it is fiercely guarded by a gauntlet of fees and tolls from the Tanzanian Government. This has significantly decreased travelers to the region, and hurt the local Maasai community that depends on the revenue they bring.
The beauty of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is defined by the sheer magnitude of the Western Breach, the green misty valleys of Barranco, the most massive glaciers left in Africa, and the gaping Ash Pit in the heart of the mountain. It is certainly worth climbing it to gaze at these natural wonders. However, the irony is that easily over 90% of those do climb Kilimanjaro, do not see these sights. They are smitten with a climber’s disease which ranks altitude above beauty when selecting a mountain to climb, and choosing a route up it. It is quite an unfortunate mistake.
To really get a good feel for the country you will need time, patience, and unfortunately, if you do not live there, some deep pockets. Kenya is an expensive country for travelers, and getting around it is often difficult. However, I highly recommend making the effort, and advise taking your Kenya road trip to these six major areas around Kenya.
Ethiopia is both one of the most frustrating countries to travel, and also one of the most unique and rewarding. It feels like you are being transported into another dimension where life is fundamentally different. That is something increasingly rare in our quickly developing world. It is something worth traveling to experience.
The sweat on your hands melts the sandstone you are gripping back into little granules causing your hands to slowly slip from the small holds on the cliff face. You have to lean in, and let go with one hand to dry the other on your pants. You are desperate to keep moving upwards towards Abuna Yemata, but stuck trying to decipher Amharic instructions from your guide about your next move.
While the conditions on Erta Ale are brutal, the show is spectacular. It feels like the lake is alive, changing its moods without warning. Sometimes it flows all in one direction, down into a hole at one edge. Then a fissure in the metallic black crust will slowly pry itself open, exposing a shape like a radioactive snake. This is the time to wait and watch until hot molten, the color of the sun, leaps through the chasm like a ballerina on center stage.
Arriving at Dallol drenched in sweat, it feels like we have found nature’s toxic waste dump. The landscape is oozing neon celeste, rust, canary and emerald. Our guide requests everyone to stay behind him because of the odd acid pool or release of deadly gases. However, he wanders off, and immediately everyone is off on their own like a bunch of drunken scientists on Mars, poking things and taking selfies with sulfuric acid.
The epitome of visiting the Mursi tribe was when our guide (not jokingly enough) asked the chief if he could marry his daughter. The chief basically spat in disgust. Of course not, he explained. Only a Mursi man is suitable for her. It was the perfect example of how, despite the harsh conditions of daily life, he still held the people of his tribe above outsiders. He was not interested in the relative material wealth of our guide, he was interested in maintaining his culture in his bloodline.
The bull jumping ceremony in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is a rite of passage for every young man in the Hamar tribe. The young man must strip naked, and run across the backs of bulls in front of his village. It is an indisputable test of bravery. However, it is not the most impressive part of the ceremony, or the most intense trial of courage of the day.
So instead of being two hours from the border, we are actually a minimum of two days away. It is a mental punch to the face. Our gas, water and patience are starting to run low. We drive hard all day. The road to Juba was paved once, but we mostly drive next to it, as the potholes are so bad it appears to have been shelled in a great war. At Nachok town we veer east on a dirt track, and do not see any other vehicles besides a military transport until long after we cross the Ethiopian border a day later.
Gnats swarm around us so thickly that swatting in front of our face feels like running a hand through a bucket of rice. We have to turn-off our headlamps to keep them away, but that leaves a gnawing feeling in our stomachs as it means we cannot see approaching crocodile eyes on the water. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 crocodiles in Lake Turkana, and Central Island National Park is their breeding ground.
On the complete opposite side of the country, the Abertine Rift in the southwest provides some of the most uniquely beautiful landscapes and wildlife in the world. From the tree climbing lions in the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, to the crater lakes of Kasenda, the Chimpanzees in Kibale National Forest, and the great Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This region is not to be missed, and offers wild experiences that are very hard to find elsewhere in East Africa.
In a society that has been governed by a council of elders, guided by rainfall, and defined by warriors, the people of Karamoja must now find their own way to integrate more deeply with the people beyond their borders so that future generations can thrive. This transition has already begun, and completing it successfully will be one of the biggest challenges the Karamojong have faced. There is nowhere in the world where you can just trade in your gun for a lifetime of education or professional experience.
Kidepo Valley National Park is the destination in Uganda that everyone recommends you visit, but nobody has actually been to. Located in the North Eastern corner of the country, pushed up against the borders of South Sudan and Northern Kenya, tribal warfare, rebels, and notoriously bad roads have kept it isolated from just about everybody. However, this seclusion has fueled its legend as one of the last surviving tracts of unadulterated wilderness left in Uganda.
The crashing water creates an aura of spray, which shoots directly back up into the air. It nourishes an oasis of flowers and foliage, and fuels vivid rainbows. Giant vase shaped Angel’s Trumpet flowers, colored Apricot and peach, hang upside down below the falls, harboring strange horned chameleons with bright yellow heads, as if doused in sunlight.
Then we hear the baritone beating of tree trunks all around us, and a group of male chimpanzees comes swinging aggressively through the trees, screeching loudly. Branches and leaves pour to the ground around us. The females climb higher on trunks and scream back, all the trees around us start swaying with chimpanzees, and I feel very much like a dazed red colobus monkey on the ground. It is an impressive show of force.
The snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains tower to the west, and the dense woodlands of Kibale Forest National Park stand to the north, stocking the Bigodi Wetlands full of water and wildlife. It is one of the best places in the world to see primates, with nine species jumping through the treetops during the day, and four nocturnal ones that emerge under the moon. Further, the birdlife in the swamps is exceptional, as the wooden walkways traversing them allow you to go deeper into the ecosystem than usual to find what is hiding in the reeds.
Lake Bunyonyi is surrounded by terraced hills where local farmers grow groundnuts, plantains, sweet potatoes, and cabbages in patchworks of adjoining fields, so it appears like someone laid a volcanic red and verdant green quilt over each hill.
Bwindi’s vast swaps, sheer peaks, and dense canopy make it foreboding enough, however, once inside its boundaries, the giant mountain gorillas ensure you realize that they are the true guardians of Bwindi, and the ones who may decide if you ever make it back out. Overall, the experience is exhilarating, and as much as the gorillas feign aggression, they also show their gentle and playful sides.
It is hard to keep-up with them, as the trail climbs over a kilometer up in just over four kilometers of hiking, and it is so muddy it feels like climbing up a wall of melting chocolate ice cream. After an hour or so of scratching upwards while slipping downwards, we are sweating in the jungle humidity, being pelted with rain, and I begin to think the ranger may have had a point.
Five days before we were scheduled to climb Nyiragongo volcano in DR Congo’s Virunga National Park, a new vent opened in the crater spewing lava into the air, and creating a cascade of lava “a firefall” into the lava lake in the crater. Upon arriving at the Virunga National Park headquarters in Goma, the park staff assure us they have rushed volcanologists up the mountain, and while the United Nations has put all their staff on evacuation alert, Nyiragongo was safe to climb.
A terrible cracking sound comes from behind us as the dominant silverback decides to make his entrance into the clearing by snapping a tree right next to us, and pulling it down with a single hand. He walks by us on all fours, not showing us his face, but ensuring we see his size, and his silverback. He passes the other gorillas, and moves deeper into the jungle, and we all follow like part of his family.
Ishasha lies in the Southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is a fabled place in Uganda where prides of tree climbing lions live in the canopies like troops of monkeys. This behavior is rare enough that there is still debate over what drives a 180 kilo (400 pound) cat to clumsily scratch its way up a tree, but sightings seem to be becoming more common.
The jungle heat hits us as we descend past the giant bamboo, and views open up of the rolling hills. The porters and guides start finding chameleons all over the trees with horns like triceratops. The land feels ancient wilderness. When we make to the ranger’s station at the park entrance, we stop to sign out, and looking at the registration book, we realize that no one has entered the park in the last six days.
It rains for several hours again in the night, and it makes me feel trapped, knowing the kilometers of tussock meadows between us and the bottom of the mountain are slowing turning into waist deep sludge. Our gateway out is closing. My feet are tender, swollen, raw-open wounds, and I can tell they are already infected.
I drift into consciousness multiple times in the night, waking in a panic that it is time to go and it is still pouring rain, and then the last time the nightmare is true. At 5:30 am, as if on autopilot, we start pulling over, strapping on, cinching, buttoning, and tying on layers and layers of gear, until I am wearing everything I have brought up the mountain.
Bernard points West towards the Congolese border where a Congolese plane flying an aid mission crashed into the mountain mists. Then in a matter of seconds, the mists rise from the forest floor, absconding the surrounding peaks like a bridal veil, as if scolding us to wait until we summit to inspect the peaks.
The shriek of the hyrax pierces the blanket of darkness, and sends a chill shivering up your spine. Its call sounds like the frantic wail of someone that has been mortally wounded, and is slowly dying alone in the woods. As the hyrax call to each other, it seems like haunted spirits are flying around the jungle wailing in the night. They are the mountain banshees of the Rwenzori.
However, the elevation gains were daunting. We would be climbing 3,456 meters [11,338 ft.] in the first four days to a height of 4,620 meters [15,157 ft.], which is higher than anything in the continental United States. Then we would loop back down the mountain in two days.
There are about fifty crater lakes around Kasenda in Western Uganda guarded by steep volcanic slopes, but you would not know it, because hardly anyone does. They are due west of Kibale National Park, and just East of the Rwenzori Mountains, and right off people’s maps. Even Ugandans who have heard of them have trouble pronouncing their tribal names, so the whole region generally slips off the radar of travelers.
The Great African Road Trip is scheduled to pass through 17 countries in East and Southern Africa, and log over 20,000 kilometers. This article outlines the best ways to track the trip, and will be updated periodically.
This piece gives an overview of the plans I have made for my Great African Road Trip, which will traverse 16 countries and cover over 20,000 kilometers over the course of 2016. I talk about preparing to be unprepared, and finding purpose along the way.
Staying on Samatian island feels like the world has melted away around you and have somehow found the last haven of civilization. Samatian Island is the only development on its own island in the middle of Lake Baringo, so staying at the camp means you have the whole island to yourself.
The elephants wake-up early, and the day starts with a visit to their enclosure where they can sleep safely through the night. If the wild herds of elephants visited the night before, they can be quite rambunctious, crashing through the trees, and trumpeting to the wild giants, but the wild elephants are still suspicious of them, and not ready to accommodate them in their herds.
Hundreds of thousands of hooves beat down on the soil, and huge clouds of dust rise-up over the savannah. The dust veils the herds, and animals leap out from it, as ghosts from crossings past, suspended in mid-air before splashing into the muddy waters below. The crocodiles inch forward through the ripples, patient, observing, carefully choosing a target among the masses.
The Great Migration in the Serengeti plains is an intricate system of weather cycles, circuits of motion, and circles of life, which is fascinating to understand, amazing to see, and at risk of losing the balance it needs.
Nosara rests in the middle of this expanse, providing a strategic base for exploring pristine sandy coves of the Nicoya. Nosara itself, features exposed surfy breaks at Playa Guiones, and a quiet sunset cove called Playa Pelada, where you can grab a cold beer from Olgas, or a gourmet meal from La Luna and watch the sun drift below the crashing waves on the northern tip of the cove.
In the boundless Northern Area of Pakistan the world’s greatest mountain ranges all come to meet. Pushed upwards by the subduction of the Indian subcontinent, their snowy peaks rise above parades of clouds providing habitat for The Golden Eagle, Snow Leopard, Himalayan Ibex, and The Tibetan Wolf. This is where the Hindu Kush, Himalaya, and Karakoram mountains merge, hosting five of the world’s 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), including K2, the world’s second tallest peak after Mount Everest.
Fairy Meadows is the bouquet of alpine flowers set before the towering translucent tomb of Killer Mountain, called Nanga Parbat in Sanskrit. The mountain provides the views that make Fairy Meadows such an alluring destination, but Fairy Meadows are where the legends of Nanga Parbat are kept alive, told by generations of villagers who witnessed the legions of climbers that never descended its icy walls.
The long grasses hang heavy with dew drops, but the skies are clear, and the rising sun reveals the silhouette of Mount Kilimanjaro 120 kilometers to the west. The dew twinkles in the sunlight as it evaporates, the grass lifts its seed ladened stems upright like a peacock spreading its plumage, and the whole savannah turns a lavender pink.
The rocky point will lead you to a beautiful crescent moon beach, back dropped by a dense mixture of coconut and pine tree foliage, mixed with tall sweeping pandanus grass, and jungle vines. This walk will take you through a series of secluded little white sand, crescent moon beaches, but only after the first three (at Pantai Avoi Beach) will they be deep enough to swim in.
The Danum Valley is the still-beating heart of Borneo, untouched but constantly in danger; it is where the soul of the island has taken refuge, and a traveler can look back in time to how things used to be. It is tucked deep into the interior of the Malaysian state of Sabah, which has shielded it over the years from the clamor of chainsaws that have clear-cut most of the coastal forests, but every year logging companies build roads deeper into the jungle, closer to these remaining wildlife sanctuaries.
Leaves blink beady yellow eyes and stretch out razor sharp praying mantis arms, twigs spring tendrils, transforming into stick bugs, and lantern bugs position themselves on tree trunks sipping sap. The canopy blocks the stars and the moon, and as a blanket of black descends, iridescent mushrooms glow lime green on the forest floor.
Then literally, just for a few seconds, the rising sun burns through the fog, displaying the ledges and vertigo inducing gullies that surround the small pinnacle upon which you perch. Golden red light refracts through the mist, and as if in the eye of the storm, everything seems still.
As time rolls forward, how do we decide what should change with it, and what will be preserved to remind future generations of the past that defines them? Some pieces of time seem too important to alter, or have such beauty that we want them to endure. Some moments are given monuments, while others are allowed to flicker and fade, barely noticed in the sea of reality.
The cabins themselves do feel as if they are from a fairy tale, guarded by the spirits of the fish eagles that stand like sentinels around the lakes, surrounded by little white everlastings flowers, giant cabbage-like tree groundsels, and heathers reminiscent of the Scottish moorlands.
Maputo is the tale of two cities woven together in the same location yet tugging the seams in different directions with a potentially devastating result for the fabric of society. It is a marriage of socialist ghosts and a capitalist nightmare.
The thundering vibrations from wildebeest hooves pulse through your body like the drum beats of an approaching army. It’s a dull and distant rumble, but it is visceral and it makes you feel vulnerable and connected. You suddenly feel not much taller than the swaying blades of savannah grass, and imagine how helpless you would be if the thousands of migrating animals veered and trampled through the camp.
For almost 3,000 kilometers the border fence between Pakistan and India runs from the sea to the great mountains of the north. It is lit by 150,000 flood lights, which glow bright orange from space, scarring the solace of the desert and the shared cultural history of the millions who live in it. It is broken in the hinterlands of Punjab by the Wagah Border Crossing. While the border itself is a product of the violent geo-political dynamic between the countries, this passage across it undermines its absoluteness and highlights its complexity.
Shela has morphed from the humble fishing village it was into a secluded haven for travelers who want to locate themselves off the map and on the beach for a while. Some may lament this, however, it does seem like those who modernized it, did so with respect to the timeless Swahili style that has always given Shela its character.
The large Mkanda channel sweeps the sand slowly out to sea along the southern shore of Manda, separating it from Lamu Island. Fishermen with weathered hand woven dhow sails tack to and fro across the channel, and the channel itself branches off, slithering silently through the heart of the island until it is slowly strangled by a mangled maze of mangroves.
Nothing is yours anymore. Your time is controlled by the incessant traffic, and your space is shared with a river of humanity constantly running through your senses. It even feels like you have to even share the millimeters under your finger nails, so that Dhaka can squeeze one more person into the most density populated city in the world.
Sound ceases except for the front of the canoe brushing through an awning of six foot high bulrush, draped into the river as we drift downstream along the bank. The guide’s eyes beam ahead and we are all laid flat on our backs in the canoes with our paddles extended lengthwise down our bodies.
Having an opinion on policies is a luxury, not afforded by many slum dwellers. So when roads are not built, electricity grids are not extended, and sewage continues to run raw through clusters of corrugated metal where people crouch through life, nobody is surprised. This is slum democracy, and those who live it, understand exactly how it works.
Cuba might still be the most interesting place I have been, and is certainly the most common recommendation I give to travelers who have still yet to land upon its shores. It instantly makes you aware of how similar disparate places around the world have become. How standard hotel rooms are, how familiar restaurant menus look, and how perplexing it is that everyone has chosen the same imperfect capitalist system to increase the quality of life in their country.
Rosa was Fidel Castro’s primary Spanish-Russian translator. The revolution had sent her to study Russian in Moscow, and she had studied diligently. She would claim with a smile that McNamara, always wanted to see her Spanish translation converted into English, so he could see how she was interpreting issues. She had served Castro during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and relayed the whole incident with the drama of a Mexican soap opera.
The malecon (the sea wall) is Havana’s bar, restaurant and source of entertainment. As the work day ends, and the sunset lights the sky, the city migrates to the seawall to drink rum, fish, talk stories, and play music. This was the only place Pancho ever wanted to live, because besides the fishing, he loved it all.
In fact, Rigo told us everyone had a side hustle in Havana. Everyone went to work for the government during the day, but at night sold beans out of their backdoor, cut hair on their terrace, or taught salsa to tourists. It was this shadow economy that kept the island running.
In stark contrast to the concrete blocks, and infestation of brand name stores in Waikiki, the north shore of Oahu remains genuinely Hawaiian. This is no accident; it is the direct impact of locals constantly striving to “keep country, country”.
The show is spectacular. The volcano mostly smokes, but then a couple times a minute it spews lava in a fiery shower, like a whale spout, and then occasionally it bellows quite deeply and launches car sized molten boulders far into the sky above our heads.
However, for those willing to take a shallow plunge, the reward is spectacular. The sun illuminates the jellies, causing them to radiate golden light through the emerald green lagoon. As you dive through them, it feels like gliding through a million stars in the night sky, some gently brushing across your mask, and along your skin, pulsating on their path towards the bright spot of sun on the lake.
He cocks his head backward at the bullet hole. “Someone may try to carjack us. They will jump out in front of us on the road with some sort of gun and demand we stop. I need to know what you are comfortable with.” He looked straight ahead, to allow the concept to sink in, to allow me to be alone with my thoughts temporarily.
A few months before I arrived in the area, a child was taken from the village where one of our guides had family. In the recent past the men would set out with guns to go kill the marauding beast, but today that is not possible, since no one has guns anymore.
Tribal warfare, the lack of infrastructure, violent crime, malaria, steep mountains and dense jungle, mean age old traditions still dictate the tempo of daily life, and information still travels by whispers and rumors.
In Vava’u, the far northern islands of the Kingdom of Tonga, the water is so clear you feel like the sun’s rays are penetrating all the way to the bottom of the ocean, but you know just beyond their reach, shrouded in the gloomy depths, is a full grown 80,000 pound, 60 foot long, female humpback whale with her newly born calf.
They are bull fighting with a tiger shark. It is so heroic and you are stoked to be in the arena with them, you just wish you had a rodeo clown. Every once in a while the shark misses the fish head, and turns towards us, mouth gaping in expectation.
We were not entirely comfortable there, as we knew rains upstream might flood the river bed in the darkness, but all that descended that night was a piecing alpine cold. We had not brought sleeping bags to save weight, and long before dawn we were all awake willing the sun to pass over the surrounding peaks and flood the river valley below.
In the end, reality is only what we agree it to be, and in this situation with such limited understanding between staff at ASUR and villagers in Maragua, parallel versions of the truth are kept. I see my role as a bridge of communication that can better relate theories to facts, weaving a closer understanding of what is important, possible, and realistic.
For my first Carnival, I traveled to Oruro, a city referred to as the “Indigenous Capital of the Country”, hosting the largest parade in the country.
About every two to three weeks during the beginning of the rainy season, I start waiting for a couple of sunny days in a row and then hike the two and a half hours out to the river to see if it is low enough to cross. Two weeks ago when I did exactly this, I really wished I had not.
I now have a functioning little bedroom and an adjacent kitchen area. I also used the excess stones from the work we did on the house to build a vegetable garden.
My first weeks as an official volunteer have been rough. I just finished a ten day stint out in my site (the village of Maragua) and feel as though I have been put through an agonizing gauntlet.
When my plane first landed in Bolivia, there were protests and road blocks in the capital of La Paz and none of the public transportation was running. In my first week, volunteers were rotating through the Bolivian hospitals and I thought, this is going to be a difficult experience.
Today marks my 14th day in Bolivia and my spirits are still high. Currently, I am in the training stage of my service which will last for ten more weeks before we are sent out on assignment. I am living in an extremely rural area like I have never experienced before. I have an outhouse, electricity most of the time, and water some of the time.
These are excerpts from my Peace Corps diary. They are set in a Quechua community, perched 10,000 feet in the Bolivian Andes, lost in a time before electricity and running water.
The guide picks you up one hour before midnight. He does not need to know where you are staying because the small village of Pura Besakih has only one guest house. The guide speaks broken English, and patiently waits for your final preparations before departure. With a smile, he sets off. Immediately, you are struggling to keep up in the pitch black. He ventures off the rural roads into the fields, “So the dogs won’t attack us,” he explains. This is first time you are glad you have hired a guide.