Monday, July 28, 2014

"Oh great," I thought, "they're already here."  Sure enough, the Serengeti paparazzi had arrived.

I didn't even know they had paparazzi out here!  Was Tom Cruise jumping on couches out in the grass?  Were Brad and Angelina adopting local children?  Did somebody find Jimmy Hoffa's body?

No, they were all good guesses but the reality was that I was actually part of the paparazzi and the target of all the cameras and attention in this case was a leopard hanging out in a tree.

Leopards are part of the "Big Five" when you go on a safari in either Kenya or Tanzania.  In this case I was well into a week long safari on the Serengeti in Tanzania.  I personally find that Tanzania has more wilderness to offer than Kenya.  They take their natural resources pretty serious and only allow the vehicles on designated roads rather than like in Kenya where you could drive anywhere.  Driving anywhere turns the land into vast dust bowls where designated roads preserve the delicate grazing lands of the Serengeti.

Anyway, back to the leopard.  Once a guide spots any of the big five word gets out on the radios to all the other guides and it's a sprint to gather around for camera position.  Just like the paparazzi you see in the Entertainment industry.  Well, not quite.  You don't usually see a leopard get tired of it and punch said camera holder like you would if you were hanging around the likes of Sean Penn or somebody.

That's shooting picture of people shooting pictures...
Still, I have to wonder if they get tired of all the publicity anytime they want to hang out.  It's a bit easier for lions.  All they have to do is hunker down in the tall grass and you can't see them unless you happen to be overhead in something that flies.  

It's as if he were posing for his fans...
It's a bit scary to realize that if you were out walking about the area there might be a hungry lion a couple feet from you and you wouldn't even know it.  This is why you NEVER walk around in the Serengeti.  If you do, just remember that you are on the food chain.  Think of yourself as a "Chef's special" for the day.  It's not every day that tourists are on the carnivore menu out there, you know.  And that's a good thing!

Feeling vulnerable outside the jeep on the Serengeti

Oh yes, if they are hungry...stay in the jeep!
Still, when you are the average tourist out there to see as many different kinds of animals in the wild, it's nice that you can get information on where some of the more elusive cats might be at.  It's not like they have a set schedule.  They follow the migration and pick off dinner when they are hungry.

Too many damn jeeps to get around for a shot without the entire sun in it...
Personally, I'm only good for about a week or two of safari.  After that it gets a bit repetitive driving around in the jeeps looking for animals to watch and take pictures of.  If you are as hopelessly ADD as I am, I'd suggest a nice turf and surf excursion.  Do a week or so on the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Park and then head to the Indian Ocean around Zanzibar and hang out at the beach there.  It's a great way to dust off the plains and chill for a bit.  More about that one in a separate post.

The Indian Ocean from the Coast of Tanzania

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sure, I know about indigenous tribes and cultures that get offended if you take their picture without permission.  But llamas?

Well that seemed to be exactly how it played out for me while hiking on the Inca Trail just outside of Machu Picchu, Peru.  

One minute I'm enjoying a nice brisk hike and shooting a picture of a llama that happened to be right on the trail and the next minute he's chasing me down the trail at high speed!

Now I don't know if I can take on a llama or not but it wasn't the time to find out.  I'd pretty much watched enough wildlife shows in my life to realize that most animals can kick our asses if need be and the vast majority can even outrun us.  Which was what seemed to be the reality with the llama.

I can run like the wind if need be.  Okay, maybe a light breeze.  But I'm no slouch down a trail.  The problem with the trails around Machu Picchu is that they are incredibly rocky.  They aren't pokey rocks.  They are big flattish type that people would abscond and put around their landscaping.  Still, that doesn't make it easy to go full out down a trail of them.

If you've never been to Machu Picchu...shame on you!  It's spectacular.  And you call yourself a traveler! Okay, never mind, I haven't even seen they Great Wall of China...

This portion of my trip had started out so a-typical of your average travel blog.  I was on my first stop after swapping out my business class ticket from Santiago, Chile to Portland, OR USA for economy seats with a variety of stops along the way.  See, I had just been to Brazil, Argentina and Chile for work and the $5,000 ticket back could pay for a lot of free adventure if I just switched to economy and then took a bunch of vacation days on the way home.  So I did.  First up was Peru.  After that it would be Ecuador and then Costa Rica.  Of course, in true Ed-esque style, not one of the stops would be ordinary.

I don't think you can leave without proving you've taken the A-typical tourist shot...
Since I'd saved so much money from the tickets, I could afford to splurge and spend the night right next to Machu Picchu.  There is a single small resort next to the site and only about a dozen or so rooms.  Everyone else has to bus back down to the valley floor at 4pm but those staying in that resort basically have the whole site to themselves for the evening.  Sure, at the time the rooms were $800 per night but I wanted that luxury of a non-touristy experience at the site.  And I got it.  And it was wonderful.  I waved bye-bye to the hoards of tourists departing for the day as I began to explore the pieces of the site that were just too riddled with TWCs (Tourists with Cameras) or screaming unruly kids in tow to be able to enjoy earlier.  Sure, I went with the tourists so I could get the guided history but then I went back to enjoy it on my own.

Yes, the hoards of tourists have to descend this hellish road at 4pm each day
The next day I spent time exploring the area around from the site.  I decided to do a bit of speed hiking up the Inca Trail.  Now, many people do the multi-day trail to arrive at Machu Picchu and I hear it is spectacular too.  I didn't have the time so I wanted to get a small sampling of it.  I wanted to feel what it was like hiking in Peru.

The Inca Trail as it climbs away from Machu Picchu.  The llama is hiding...waiting
As everyone that has ever been to this area of the world, you best not be afraid of heights because the original inhabitants were certainly not.  They were farming in places we would probably set up rappel ropes on.  I ran across a trail cut through a sheer cliff that looked downright amazing.  The trail was closed off and had long been unused but you could see the line from the distance and yeah, no way would I have attempted that unsecured by something. And I've done high-end technical rock climbing for dozens of years!

The trip up the trail was uneventful but pleasant.  I turned around after the trail leveled off and I'd run into some sort of structure from ages passed that didn't have any markers letting me know what it was.  On the way back is when I encountered that damn llama.  It was right on the trail.  I proceeded with caution because I've had encounters with animals before.  There was the time in Alaska when I nearly walked into a bear.  There was the time in a California suburb that a falcon was attacking me during a run.  There was the time on the Oregon Coast when I ran into a deer running in complete darkness.  Suffice it to say the list goes on.  I'll get around around to posting those adventures eventually.  They were all truly surreal.

My turnaround point...happy in my pre-animal attack state...
I slipped by the llama as he was stepping up the trail to sniff at something and then my big mistake was stopping on the other side to shoot a picture.  I should have just been happy with the one I shot before I got around him.  But nooooo....I just had to have one more.  But before I could shoot it, for some reason that pissed him off and he dropped down on the trail and started to charge me.

Sure enough, I did like any stupid person would do.  I ran for my life down the trail.  I'm not sure what damage an angry llama can do.  Tie me up in wool?  I don't know...but I didn't want to find out.

Not exactly easy to run fast on...
It had to be a good quarter mile before he got bored and stopped chasing me.  By then I had nearly wiped out off the trail several times as my ankles twisted this way and that trying to navigate the uneven rocky terrain.  Luckily my super power is rubber ankles.  Probably attained from years of ice and inline skating.  I can literally walk on them and be just fine.  And I needed to with this trail.

Needless to say, I eventually slowed down and recovered enough to walk back.  I was drenched with sweat and I'd already checked out and had my bags waiting to get picked up as I was to head back to the train and eventually the airport.  I'm sure nobody that sat next to me on the train was pleased to do so.  Just another crazy day in the Ed-travelogue...

Another fun little discover in the ruins not obscured by tourists

Monday, July 21, 2014

Just for the record, there are no camels on Camelback Mountain near Phoenix, AZ, USA.  But there are plenty of urban hikers.  In fact, there are so many hikers that the only wildlife you are probably going to see up the trail are the strange people who seem to end up on one of the two trails that lead to the top of the desert mountain.

It is understandable that with any urban hiking you will find people that just shouldn't be on the trail.  We are used to hiking out in forests and more remote deserts where you have some space to call your own.  We were a bit amused that we had to share the small summit with 30 or so other hikers at that particular slice of time on that particular day.

Ahh...nothing like a nice quiet viewpoint moment at the end of the trail...with a bazillion other urban hikers...
Arizona is a good late fall or early winter escape for anybody depressed by the thought of crappy weather further North.  We headed down to a resort in Scottsdale just to find some sunshine.  So while it was 52 degrees and raining up North in Oregon we acted like sloths under the 82 degrees of sunshine on the valley floor, sipping our fruity rum drinks and cooling ourselves by the pool.  We rarely do such lethargic activities but after a summer full of activities, it was time to chill a bit.

Phoenix, AZ is ridiculously too hot Jun-Sep.  Stick with Oct-Dec or Mar-May. was hard to get motivated to even get up and go to the bathroom in this kind of setting.  Another fruity rum drink, please...

Feeling guilty about just laying around at the pool, we did plan a few outdoor excursions too.  Our first foray into the desert was mountain biking.  This wasn't something Jeanne particularly enjoyed because in Arizona, you really don't ride on the ground.  You ride on rocks on the ground.  The rocks are probably nestled on other rocks in the ground.  I'm not entirely sure if there is any ground other than rocks.  I suspect there may be because you do see desert dirt and sand around but it always just seems to be a light covering over more rocks.
Yes, it looks like a dry creek bed but is actually a mountain bike trail.
Even with full suspension, you eventually feel like you've gotten on some kids bounce toy as you bounce your way up with the bike flying through the rocks.  It only took about an hour to realize that this wasn't quite as much fun as we had hoped.  We didn't really want a challenge route from Survivor, we just wanted a nice cruising route in the sunshine.  The only place we were going to find that was getting chased around by angry golfers while we illegally ride their special golf cart paths.  Eventually even that gets old or you get arrested.  So it was back to the pool until our next excursion.

"Yep, I counted 7 million rocks on the trail too"
Our next excursion was practically right next to us.  Camelback Mountain is right next to both Phoenix and Scottsdale Arizona.  There are two trails up the mountain.  Echo Canyon is the more crowded while Cholla is the more obscure.  By obscure I mean that instead of several hundred people on the trail at any one time, it might only have 200.

You see the trail up this, right?

Being Arizona, these are barely trails. They are more like rock boulder scrambles.  Sure, there is some trail here and there and they have hand rails, fencing in some really steep areas but a lot of it involves climbing over one giant rock boulder to the next...and the next...and the next.

Eventually, you reach the summit (or run out of water and evaporate on some rock like a plant that has never been watered).  It isn't a long trail.  It's only 1.2 miles to the top but you do gain about 2,000 feet of elevation in doing so.  You may end up adding another couple of miles because while hundreds flock to this city trail every day, they've devised a parking lot for about 30 cars.  If you are a tourist, you might as well not even rent a car.  Just throw your luggage into the airport locker and start walking from there.  Sure, it's a long way but you won't have to deal with parking!

That's right, about 30 spots for 200+ hikers and rock climbers.
Fortunately for me, my wife's super power is getting ridiculously hard parking spots.  Sure enough, despite gridlock and angry visitors all competing for an elusive parking spot, she goes around the lot and somebody pulls out to leave right in front of her and we get one of the best spots in the place.  She could get a spot in front of the opening for the Olympics 20 minutes before it starts, I swear!

I had to strip naked and run around like I was insane in order to get this shot without people in front of me
Okay, back to the top.  It's a beautiful once you arrive.  You can see 360 around you if you can see at all.  For at the top is where you will find more people than the mall at Christmas time.  Camping at the top (which is probably not allowed anyway) would be like bringing your tent to a shopping mall and plopping it down right there on the walkway.

There was even a "Christmas Tree" with decorations at the top.

Sing along..."Deck the desert with old used ornaments, fa la la la la..."
If you want to truly appreciate the hike, here are some tips.

1.  Don't pretend you're in a Survivor challenge and try to run up it all geeked up in technology and hydration solutions.  You'll just look stupid.

2.  Know that you'll see droves of people in all states of fitness.  There are clearly people that shouldn't be on the trail in any kind of heat and they will fall down, hoot and holler, etc.  Just enjoy the quirkiness of it all.  Don't try to be all high and mighty and expect a wilderness experience.  You'll just be disappointed.

3.  Don't under estimate hydration.  Bring whatever works but make sure it's enough.  If you go up with nothing but a can of beer, you'll be sorry!

4.  Wear something that actually grips on steep angled surfaces.  Don't wear flip flops.  They have zero lateral support and some of the trail is pretty darn steep rock.  Bad shoes or flip flops will likely get you injured from a fall or rubbing your feet off.

Yes, you too can hike it in a wedding dress...but you may not stay married for long after this descent...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Whenever I ride with you, it's an adventure," my friend says to me as we start off on an urban bike ride through the streets and bike trails of Portland, Oregon, USA.

"What do you mean?" I ask him.

"Well my last dozen or so rides have been uneventful from start to finish.  But whenever I go with you, something unusual or interesting always seems to happen."

I'm beginning to see his point now.  Last time we rode together was rural and forestry with very little traffic at all and some redneck in a large pickup came up from behind and gunned his engine like he was late for an episode of "Hee Haw" on the TV or something.  He screamed by us down the oncoming lane and was gone.  We thought nothing much of it.  It wasn't a scene out of "Easy Rider" where somebody leaned out the window to use us for target practice or something.  No, just a slight irritation and he was gone.

Or so we thought.  For sure enough, just up the road he'd pulled off, circled around and waited so he could scream.  "You two get the f**k off my road!" and then proceeded to gun it back down the hill from whence he came.

The bigger the pick up the smaller the..............I.Q.
This was the kind of thing that happens when you ride with me I guess.  I don't know, do I excrete some mystical scent that pisses off those around me?

Case in point...on this particular biking adventure, we first followed some roads.  We were on a bike path along side of a really wide two lane road with no traffic at all when up comes a semi-truck from the other way and leans out the window, flips us off and proceeds to yell, "Get the f**k off the road."  Apparently he didn't personally own the ride like the idiot from before but he sure had to go out of his way for us to hear it clear across this wide road.

Later we jumped onto some bicycle paths that cut through Portland.  The Springwater Corridor is a 20+ mile former railroad line that is a convenient and fun ride.  

Springwater Corridor path through the East side of Portland, OR
And not just fun in the sense that you can get off the streets and meander down a dedicated path for non-motorized vehicles but also fun in that because it is urban and because this was Portland, you never knew what you might see riding or walking.

In Portland, this bike isn't that out of the ordinary
Okay, this might actually be out of the ordinary even for Portland
Seriously...Portland is one of those few cities that have the motto "Keep Portland Weird".  It wasn't their invention. Austin, TX came up with it but Portland does it justice too.  So when you aren't gazing at some crazy contraption on the path or dodging some homeless person camping in the bushes, you're usually dodging city people that don't seem to have a sense that there are others on the same path as them and they should be aware that they're weaving all over it.  Still, if you don't get taken out, it's a fun ride.

As with most urban trails, it seems to be a magnet for the homeless to live in
So I'm leading and we're on the right side of the path as we should be and another biker comes at us from the other way and right as he comes up to me he barks at me.  Yes, literally barking like a dog.

I still don't know what to say.  Meeting bicyclists that bark at you wasn't on my bucket list and actually not something I would have ever considered might happen out there even in Portland.  But it did.  And it just added to the legend that for whatever reason, unusual things happen when we go riding.  Go figure.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

I leaned over to the stewardess, "Excuse me, where is my airsick bag?"  The two passengers next to me turn my way simultaneously as if they were Agent Smith's from the movie "The Matrix" and just stare at me in horror.  This flight isn't going to go well.

I was just returning from a trip to Tanzania and going back through Dubai on United Emirates on the way to New York.  This was a 13 plus hour trip on an actual nice airline.  But unfortunately I chose to eat fast food at the Dubai airport and apparently I got food poisoning from the Dairy Queen.

For the guy that seems to never get sick travelling, here I was with an almost instantaneous feeling to throw up.  I couldn't find the airsick bag fast enough.  Well, okay, fortunately for the other passengers, I did find that quick enough.  What I didn't do quick enough was make it to the bathroom before having to actually use one of these.  Bonus show for the economy passengers on flight "Oh Crap" bound for New York City.  As if 13 plus hours cooped up in an economy seat wasn't enough suffering, they had to watch me puking up hamburger and milkshake into a little white bag like I'm self creating some sort of fast food smoothie (okay, I went to the gross side...sorry).

Food Poisoning...this is the last thing you will see...
Fortunately for me, the airplane was large enough to have several bathrooms to choose from and so it wasn't like I was causing up every passenger on the flight to stand in line in front of my bathroom waiting.  That was a good thing, because I spent the next 10 hours in there!

Why is that guy STILL in the bathroom?
10 hours in the smallest of bathrooms.  The majority of that time I spent throwing up every conceivable drop of food and liquid my body had.  At some point I think I prayed a surface to air missile might just graze our plane ripping a hole in that bathroom and sucking me out of the plane to put me out of my misery.  But you never get what you really want and so I rode out the inevitable body aches that food poisoning adds to your vomiting agenda.

10 hours laying on the floor, hanging over the toilet.  Now I know what solitary confinement is like.  By the time I felt like I could crawl back to my seat, I figured my co-passengers had already auctioned off all my carry on items to the highest bidder on the plane.  I'd start seeing my personal items being used all over the plane.  I was delirious and exhausted.

But my co-passengers hadn't touched my belongings and they only looked at me as if I'd fallen out of the plane and somehow bungee'd back onto it.  And believe me, I felt like I had.

New York wasn't my final destination either.  I still had a six hour flight to the West Coast and being that I came internationally and was doing my next leg domestically, I got the added pleasure of having to retrieve my checked baggage and go through customs, walk to the next building and check them back in.

Grabbing my suitcase felt like somebody had asked me to carry my car over to the baggage terminal.  I slid it pathetically across the floor and then rolled it outside and across the sidewalk until I made it to the other terminal.  I collapsed on the floor and remained there until boarding.  I'm not sure if people thought I was dead or drunk but nobody seemed to bother me and I somehow made it onto the next flight.

Why didn't I pack lighter for this flight...
Suffice it to say that was the third worst flight I'd ever taken.  I know, I know, you're thinking, "Now what could top that?"  But that would be another two posts and another two continents. Stay tuned, I'll get to them.

So next time you feel a bit cooped up in the airplane bathroom, just try to imagine spending 10 hours in it...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Okay, these must be some kind of joke on tourists."  Well, after nearly two weeks of looking for these damn big birds, I was feeling a bit bamboozled here in Australia.  Was this their version of a Snipe?  Big Foot?  Yeti?  Loch Ness Monster?

The signs were seemingly everywhere around the jungles.  They were up North of Cannes around Cape Tribulation.  They were South of Cannes around Mission Beach.

Yeah, this wasn't THE big bird; that yellow one from Sesame Street.  No, we wanted to see an actual Cassowary in the wild.  If you have never heard of them, well, welcome to the club.  I hadn't either until we came up to the Queensland territory in Australia.  These birds weren't your typical Kangaroo or Kuala.  No, these were large Ostrich like birds with heads like some prehistoric rooster or lizard.  

Now Australia has its share of strange sports:

Strange animals:

Strange terrain:

And even strange notions in the minds of tourists that want to go there:

And Cassowaries fit right into that strangeness.  But they were also were reputed to be quite vicious.  There were stories floating around about hikers terrorized by one not far away.  Okay, sure, these stories always seemed to emerge when alcohol was involved but if you've ever tasted the local water in that area of Australia, you'll know why everyone drinks too much.

We spent days uncounted up North of Cannes in the Cape Tribulation area.  We saw a great many amazing areas and things but in terms of local creatures, nothing but jungle chickens (more on those in a later post), lizards, snakes and oversized cockroaches.

Cassowaries are ancient birds and their numbers are very small.  Unfortunately, a lot of them have been killed from motorists.  No, not some movie "Death Race with Cassowaries" notion where motorists get points for kills.  It's a bit like hitting deer in America or Europe.  Well, not quite as common as deer.  Kangaroos in Australia, yes, they are pretty common and get hit a lot but Cassowaries are not and still they get hit a lot.

Our last destination in the area was a bit South of Cannes in the area of Mission Beach.  It was the one destination I got tricked while making reservations ahead of time via the internet.  What looked like a beautiful spa like natural setting turned out to be more of a trailer park screaming-kids disaster so we didn't stay as long as was planned.  That too merits a separate post.  We did manage to see a lot of beauty along the way.

Suffice it to say that this was our last opportunity to see one of these mythical creatures.  Just as we'd sort of given up, right there next to the road we came upon a father and two baby Cassowaries.  What incredible luck!  Yes, these are birds you wouldn't want to piss off out in the jungle!

It's interesting that the Dad does all of the caregiving for the babies.  I wonder if male Cassowaries get the child support in cases of divorce?  Nevermind...I digressed.  We shot some splendid video and a bunch of photos and left them alone, happy in the ability to have been fortunate to witness something you literally have to go to Australia to see.  For nowhere else on Earth can you witness a Cassowary in its habitat.