seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

Travel

Thoughts and reflections on trips I have taken, from across the planet to across the state.

Couch Caption Contest

We decided that we should share some of our fun with y'all. So help us to captionate these photos by visiting the gallery and commenting on the photos. Best caption gets some sort of prize from here, courtesy of Russ, Lisa, and I.

Couches Contest

I changed my mind and decided that I should put some photos up for y'all to check out in the gallery. There won't be many after I leave Mpwapwa probably, but I'll do what I can.

TZ Photos

I busted out the camera for a few shots in the evening last night. I only took a few - I wasn't sure how easy it would be to edit and upload them, but we (Russ) have (has) GiMP running on an Ubuntu install and it works really well.

I'll take more photos and get them up over the week I am in village with Russ and Lisa. No promises after that.

A man from the village channeled Kimmi yesterday. Lisa introduced me and after shaking my hand vigorously, he leaned forward and patted my stomach, noting that I had "brought my spare tire with me." I replied that I hoped to leave it here.

I took 2 shots of Lisa that I loved, one has the perfect color and eye focus but the other has the winning Lisa smile - here is the one with the good color.

Lisa

The sun was hitting this sunflower just perfectly and I really liked the clouds behind it.

Sunflower

Lastly, I got this shot of Lisa in their garden. I totally put the horizon in the middle of the photo, but I didn't want to cut off her feet or the great clouds.

Lisa in garden

At this point, my plan is to post photos on occasion to the blog but not to the gallery. Gallery photos must be too big and the upstream is too slow. I will put up a gallery when I return.

Lisa is also posting updates on her blog and photos in her gallery - so add that to your list to see what is up. I think the anti-malarial drugs are affecting her judgment on my qualities...

Arrival!

I'm in Tanzania, BEOTCH

49 hours. Door to door. Left my apt 3 hours after falling asleep. 2 hours in the airport waiting to leave. 30 minutes in JFK trying to figure out why my flight wasn't listed. 20 minutes finding the right terminal. 15 minutes getting through another airlines check-in process and then security again.

5 hours of waiting in JFK. Bought a gatorade - 8oz - for $4. Gotta love the NY exchange rate, eh? Flew to Zurich on American Airlines. Boeing 767. Crap plane - Swissair Airbuses are way better. Service was alrighty though. 7.5 hours on plane or so.

Arrived in Zurich. 20 minutes trying to figure out where I was and where my next plane would be. Had to go through security again - they took my gatorade, damnit. I was RATIONING IT! Why do I have to keep going through security??? 2 hours waiting at the gate.

All the time, I am reading 3 months worth of The New Republic and Sports Illustrated. Mostly leaving them where I finish them, shedding weight. Nice. Save a few TNR's for the Peace Corps folks.

Back on the plane! The clock tells me it is morning. My body tells me it is confused. I am sitting next to a Swiss dude with a great smile who apparently speaks only German. I help him with his remote control and he smiles. Later, I get up to use the lav and he attempts to get up without taking the seatbelt off. Was probably funnier because we could not understand each other and bonded through out linguistic limitations.

7 hours to Nairobi or something like that... in an Airbus 330 which is way better than any Boeing I've ever been in. Plus the Swissair service is great. Decent food, but lots of it. Great apple juice (the stuff on American Airlines was good too). I sleep alot and finish a Wired and several more TNRs. Dark in Nairobi - that's right, we be south of the equator and it is winter here.

Could not see Kilimanjaro, but I'll be close enough to it soon enough, eh? Arrived in Dar es Salaam at the 8:00 pm, on schedule.

Thank you Russ for encouraging me to get my Visa before coming - I avoid the big line and am first in line for passport control. The guy smiles at me and acts confused when I say I'm going to Mpwapwa - near Dodoma. It is like I just flew into NY and announced I'm heading to Boondocks, Iowa for a great vacation.

No problems though, I collect my luggage and head outside. Matayo - friend of Russ and Lisa waits for me with a sign and we go to find a taxi. The taxi is there, but not a driver. Matayo is a little dismayed and says to me, "Russ told me about POS - this car is a POS."

We find the driver and head to the hotel in the dark, in a light rain via a city with few traffic rules and fewer lights and no seatbelts. No scarier than Jordan and a picnic compared to Lebanon. I'm relaxed - but mostly just because I know my laptop and its siren song are safely on another continent. No matter what happens, I have no clients to please and no work to do for one month.

We get to the hotel - essentially a very nice hostel by western standards. We eat late at night - chicken and rice and head to bed. I read for a bit and fall asleep for a few hours. Up for a quick almost shower - the water too cold for a full shower - we grab a papaya and bread breakfast and take a taxi to the zaniest (lol) bus station. Insane - people selling stuff, people trying to get you to take their bus, taxis nearly running entire clans of people over.

But we get to the bus and people smell my rich-foreigner-ness. Matayo and I get on the bus, a sitting near the front (this becomes important later). My cameras and other gear are below the bus, leaving me a bit nervous. That gear could feed a family here for years even if fenced cheaply.

The bus is packed. 2 people sit on one side of the aisle, 3 on the other. Normal bus width bus. You cannot be both normal height and sit without putting your knees through the seat ahead of you. I'm lucky to have kids behind me who only occasionally kick me rather than permanently knee me. I sit this way for 7 hours.

The bus travels on a 1 lane in each direction blacktop. Trucks and buses share the road - damn few private cars. Some of the buses are packed VW vans. Trucks frequently have slogans on them - stuff like "Jesus Power" and other religious slogans. I'm told they are divided evenly among Christians and Muslims, but I see mostly Christian trucks.

Mom and other relatives who worry about my safety: skip this paragraph... We get up to what must be 80mph at times on downhills. Passing others going uphill. Recently, a bus dove off the road to avoid a petrol truck when trying to pass and 17 people died. We'll be riding these buses all around TZ but Russ and Lisa know which companies are safer, so we should be good. I never felt unsafe, but I have a different calculus than most folks.

We stop at bus stops and people sell stuff through the windows. Soda, water, nuts, fruits, sambosas (I love 'em, but I sure as hell ain't buying them at a bus stop!). We get some water and muffins to munch on along the way.

After 5 hours, we leave the paved road for a hard-packed clay road. We stop and many people get off to pee in the high grasses. Back on the bus and we head toward our village - 2 hours away. We must be traveling faster than 40mph at times on this dirt road - avoided holes and swaying from side to side on occasion.

I drift in and out of sleep - I don't know if I wanted to take my genetically-inspired afternoon nap or if my body still remembers that it is the middle of the night in Minnesota. Either way, I'm drifting in and out as I see more traditional Tanzanian villages and I head into a part of Tanzania that 99% of visitors here never see.

We arrive and I see Russ and Lisa walking up - a long overdue hug and quick walk later, I'm done traveling for a bit. My new home!

Russ and Lisa have a very nice home with a comfortable living room. It was filled with Peace Corps folk who happened to be in town, so I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in heaven - catching up with Russ and Lisa while talking politics and energy policy with people that have not heard my best stories and thoughts!

Lisa made a great cake for my arrival and to celebrate another PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) birthday. It was a really great day.

Russ and Lisa both look great and being around them reminds me how much I have missed them. I feel very comfortable here - they walked me through the village today introduced me to some people, taking care to explain that I literally knew no kiswahili and I had just arrived. I'm trying to pick up on some words, but it goes slow. The language is not hard to learn I'm told - it is a trader language. But I'm intimidated by such things.

So that is what is going on - I'm on day 2 in country. We'll be at Russ and Lisa's for 9 more days or so, then we'll be galavanting around the country. I'll see about photos soon, but for now, I'm enjoying just being here.

1:07 AM

Time for bed. Up at 4:15 to shower and head to the airport. All packed and ready to go.

Tanzania

I leave tomorrow morning. In hours. Too much to do still.

I hope to do updates when possible from internet cafes and the like.

I will be hanging with Russ and Lisa at their house for 10 days or so and doing some hiking/camping with them - potentially in the Udzungwa mountains. John Garbe will be rolling into town sometime around then and we'll chill with him too.

On the 15th, more friends (including Hannah of my Mt. St. Helens trip fame) will arrive and we will go on Safari for a few days (living the Lion King according to Russ and Lisa). After that (around June 21), John, Russ, and I will take the long walk up Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Following that, we'll figure out what we want to do with the last days and get on a plane on June 30. On July 1, I'll be back in the States.

Ciao.

D.C.

Got up early and lost my facial cleanser and toothpaste to the stupid FAA regulations. I'm tempted to ask how dumb these regulations can get, but I don't want to challenge the TSA in that arena.

Flew to D.C. next to a good guy - talked about photography, technology, Apple, and sports. His dad was a college football coach and he actually played linebacker for a Big 12 school if I remember correctly. He currently works for a defense contractor, making better guns for the Navy, so we didn't talk politics =)

Met a bunch of people in D.C. - including a meeting K Street. Look out world! This is where the democracy happens, right? In all seriousness, the meeting on K street was with a great group that tries to get the FCC (they cover radio and TV issues) to actually regulate in the public interest rather than corporate interest.

Also met the people from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance D.C. office. Had really good conversations and then had a fun dinner at an Asian Fusion type place. Ordered some hot faux chicken Kung Pao and got a mild dish that was quite good. The soy-chicken stuff was quick good and realistic. More good conversations. Finally arrived at the hotel room late (10:00 local time). It has been a good day.

Tomorrow is the actual first day of the conference - looking forward to it. The subject is community wireless networks.

Vaccinated!

Look out disease and illness, if I survive the next couple of days, I will be a super human - temporarily immune to yellow fever, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, tetanus, whooping cough, and Meningitis. Oh yeah, I hit the travel clinic and started prepping for the trip to Tanzania!

But for now, I hope to avoid a couple of bleh days as my body adjusted to being so incredibly immunized.

Search & Rescue

Due to my enjoyment of outdoor activities like rock climbing, some people have asked me about my opinion of the search & rescue for the climbers lost on Mt Hood last December. Outside Magazine had a great, short article on the situation in the March, 2007 issue.

What occurred on Mount Hood was a routine mountaineering accident, yet it somehow generated almost 1,000 newspaper articles in December alone, and flooded network and cable news shows with a nearly continuous loop of interviews with tearful kin and stoic rescuers. It was a high-altitude Amber Alert, the facts and spirit of which were neatly summed up by the New York Post's screaming front-page headline: DEATH ON THE MOUNT. By comparison, the search for Sue Nott, one of America's most prominent mountaineers, and her climbing partner, Karen McNeill, of New Zealand, who disappeared on Alaska's Mount Foraker last May, went almost unnoticed by the national media.

One of the biggest concerns is the costs of such search and rescue attempts. Outside tackled this head-on.

Why should taxpayers foot the bill for the rescue? Fox's Bill O'Reilly brought Outside executive editor Michael Roberts on his show, complained about how his tax dollars were being spent on "thrill seekers," and suggested that Oregon close down Mount Hood in winter.

Bill, you listening? There's a reason this country established the world's first national park, and it wasn't to jump-start the postcard business. Self-reliance in the wilderness is part of our national heritage. We don't need to close trails; we need to encourage more people to use them. As for cost, mountain rescue is a bargain compared with the $730 billion outdoor recreation pumps into the economy each year. And 90 percent of search-and-rescue personnel are volunteers who provide their own equipment and training. When military helicopters are called in, the operations usually double as training missions and are thus covered under existing budgets.

The entire article is well worth reading for some perspective on that situation. The bottom line is that many outdoor activities are inherently dangerous. Some less than others, but merely going on a hike can put you at risk. We take these risks on because they tend to be worth it.

Squamish Photos

I just posted photos from my trip to Squamish, British Columbia with Zac and Adam over the summer.

Long Ride Home

I returned to the rock climbing gym today. Between shooting soccer and climbing in a gym, I certainly feel back at home. Still odd to think that I won't be seeing my friends from OR-OSHA anytime soon.

I need to detail my long trip home. Originally, I was going to drive with Zac but I had to get home earlier than that to shoot the University of Minnesota soccer program. So I booked a flight. I booked with America West (now owned by US Air) because it was the cheapest. I know why it is the cheapest.

I flew out of Seattle because it was cheaper than Portland. Zac drove me there on his way out of town. The car was packed, I got wedged in the back, on my lap sat my pack. Johanna rode shotgun. 3 hours with my pack on my lap. Got to the airport in plenty of time though and I thank Z & J for going out of their way to take me to the airport.

Checked my main bag at the curb and carried my huge camera bag and a laptop messenger bag to the security line. Flew through. Well, I got a pat-down by a clean cut gent. Cannot complain about that. Got to my gate 15 minutes after leaving the car.

The plane was not at my gate. It would not arrive until 30 minutes after it was supposed to leave. Apparently there were some weather issues wherever it came from. It was way late. Many folks were asking about connections in Phoenix (I was scheduled to fly to Phoenix, then catch my flight to Minneapolis). I was about the join in the line when they announced: "Do not worry, no one will miss their connections in Phoenix. Phoenix is running way behind also."

So rather than divert us then - when we would have had more options, they refused to deal with a developing problem and sent us into an airport that was in disarray. The flight was without event except for showing us Mission Impossible 3 - which I hope to review shortly with several other films I recently caught. MI3 blew, but it was something I had wante dto see eventually, so I'm glad they showed it when I had nothing better to do.

Landed in Phoenix - 6:30PM. Asked about my connection. They tell me that I missed it. Awesome. I join several others hoping to get to Minneapolis in the customer service line. Arturo (sociology grad student) and I talk about politics and state government while waiting for 20 some minutes for the next person.

As Phoenix had been having problems all day with weather, they had many people who missed their connections. For us, they had no good news. No way to get into Minneapolis before midnight the next day.

I am supposed to be at the U on the next morning at 8:00 AM because I volunteered for orientation. The first time I flew America West (industry insiders called it America Worst) they mismanaged my luggage. Now they stranded me in Phoenix.

But there is a silver lining. In talking with the woman, they can get me to Milwaukee that night (because that flight was leaving late). I hustle to the gate while she re-books me. I get to the gate and wait. They have empty seats but may be over some weight restriction. So I might not have a seat.

I'm on the phone trying to find someone who will drive the 5 hours to Milwaukee to pick me up in the middle of the night. No takers. I figure that if I can't find someone to help me in my time of need, I'll take the first Greyhound in the morning. It doesn't matter. I can't get on the plane.

I get a good look at one of America West's profoundly 70's operation. They are really amazing. It has been at least 6 years by my reckoning that NorthWest has had bar codes on boarding passes. As each person walks into the gate, they scan the pass. The advantage to this comes when the last person walks on the plane, they know how many people have boarded.

America Worst has a different system. They have harried people who frantically key in the information from each pass. When they find collisions (two people in the same seat) they run down to the plane to deal with it. This is really dumb. So they don't know how many people are on the flight for several minutes after the last person boards - a problem for an industry that schedules to seconds.

At any rate, some irate woman who has probably worked 10 hours that day doesn't want to deal with me so she just tells me that she can't get me on the plane. The woman I had been dealing with had no choice but to bow to her superior's icy demeanor despite the fact that getting me on the plane was a definite possibility - if they cared at all about my travel needs. One of them did. Her boss overruled her.

I found another line. Another longer line. A line that moved even more slowly. Joked a bit with those around me while waiting another 40-50 minutes. Finally got to the front of the line and hoped to get the really cute rep. Nope. The guy behind me got her and grinned at me while approaching her. I liked that guy.

Trying to get a new route home was an exercise in bad Information Technology. An intelligent way to set up a computer system to handle this scenario would be for the agent to input: CUSTOMER WANTS TO GO TO MINNEAPOLIS SOON. The computer would spit out all the permutations of ways to get there in order of arrival.

This is how America Worst handles it: agent looks at flights going from Las Vegas to Minneapolis. If there is an opening, she sees if she can get me to Vegas in time. Nope. She had to query each intermediary airport separately. This means that Orbitz literally knows how to manage America West's flights better than America West can.

I just want to leave Phoenix. If I can get to Vegas soon, I can buy a ticket on another airline to get home quickly. This sucks but at least I'll be home in time to handle my obligations. No go. So many people missed earlier flights that everything out of the airport that night is booked.

The best I can do is a flight the next day at 6:16 PM (23 hours, 45 minutes after I landed) which puts me in Minneapolis too late to do anything. But I can fly stand-by. The first full flight leaves the airport at 8:50 AM.

Orf's parents live nearby and his dad came to pick me up at the airport because they would not give me a hotel voucher or anything - the delay was caused by "weather" because at some point, that plane was delayed because of weather. This is, of course, total bullshit. The weather in Seattle was sunny, which is odd but certainly not a problem. They could have dealt with us there, routing us on one of their many flights to Vegas or a different airport which connects to Minnapolis but did not have massive problems.

They chose to put me on a plane when they knew I would miss my connection. That was not weather. US Air and America West (worst) have totally lost my business, and I hope yours. The next time any airline asks for a federal bailout, I will steadfastly oppose it. Let these ancient beasts fail. Allow more innovative companies the chance to take over. The older companies have had their chance. They blew it. Spectacularly.

At any rate, Bob picks me up at 9:10 PM and drives me to their amazing house. I eat a sandwich, which means I have now consumed between 400 and 500 calories that entire day. Waiting in line and wondering when I'll get home distracts from hunger pangs I guess.

I enjoyed the evening with the Orfs - good conversation and jokes as per usual. Woke up the next morning at 5:30 AM for a shower, loads of orange juice and breakfast. Off to the airport.

I got singled out for an in depth bag search. One TSA agent per bag. The one going through my camera bag was somewhat new and still being taught how to do it. She only searched one compartment. The other security agent found my contraband: a bottle of water and a bottle of Excedrin Migraine pills.

They could not let me continue with either one because of the hysteria surrounding popular security fears. I have written previously about the pure stupidity of these new security bans. They ban liquids and gels. My pills were neither one. Sure, they claim to be "gel tabs."

Are they actually a gel? NO. They are freaking pills. I could have taken my possibly BOMB pills onto the plane if I had a prescription though. Clearly no one who could figure out a way to bring down a 737 with 26 migraine pills would know of a way to fake a prescription. This is not security!!! This is what Bruce Schneier calls security theatre. It is about presenting a veneer of security for people too dumb to care about real security (which is what stopped the attempted attacks on the airlines several weeks ago - not stupid restrictions on liquids).

But whatever, what am I going to do? Argue? I have a plane to stand-by for, people! So I bid a tearful farewell to my only security against massive headaches and walked to my gate.

At the gate, it rapidly becomes apparent that many people are standing-by. I talk with a guy on his way back for a family reunion. They board the plane. They key in the codes. They argue a bit and generally act confused. Call everyone on stand-by to the counter. They call "Mitchell." I grab my stuff and run up to grab the pass like a ticket out of Purgatory.

I'm on the plane! I'm heading home! I'm gonna make the soccer game. I have already missed the stuff at the U I volunteered for. The plane takes off and I settle in for the 3 hour flight.

Landed, got picked up by my sister Kimmi and grabbed lunch at my favorite soup and sandwich place ever - Acme Deli on St. Clair (across from the Broiler, which has awesome malts). Home! Shot photos! Slept in my own bed! Watched the Eagles play the Steelers with my daddYman. Now I just gotta get a bunch of those Oregon folks to move out here...

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