Laetoli Expedition - On Route
June - July 2004 A brief stop in Amsterdam on route to Dar es Salaam. A nine-hour layover on the way back to New York. Very nice airport with a neat museum and casino. Watched a Japanese business man go through about ten grand in 40 minutes. Refused to exchange money into Euros and almost starved! Tried and failed to sweet talk myself into the executive lounge.
August, September 2005
A whirlwind tour of Morocco. Initially set to be seven nights, it was cut down to five due to sickness, deciding instead to head back to Spain early.
After a day in Tangier, exploring the medina, kasbah and beach, we took an overnight train to Marrakech. We used Marrakech as a launching point for a day-long road trip inland, over the High Atlas Mountains, to Ouarzazate and Aît Benhaddou, which had impressively preserved Kasbahs. Dinner in the Djemma El Fna was memorable to say the least.
After two days in Marrakech, we began to head north again. Casablanca was the first stop. We spent a full day there on the beach recuperating, but with our health deteriorating, we decided not to push onto Fes the following day, but rather back to Tangier. We figured we could make a quick escape to Spain if Stacey felt she needed hospitalization.
West Coast Roadtrip
Stacey came to visit on the long July 4th weekend. Saturday morning, we took a flight to Las Vegas. We picked up our rental, a brand new Mustang, and hit the road. First Stop: Hoover Dam, which was pretty spectacular. The air temperature was over 110, and deadly when the wind blew. We took a refreshing dip in Lake Mead on the way home, and killed two hours frolicking in the shimmering turquoise water. The rest of the afternoon was spent hitting all of the casinos. Roulette owned us big time, but we did well at blackjack, making a profit in all three locations we played at.
The following day we got on the road by 10am, and started to head east, towards the Grand Canyon. A number of stops and 8 hours later, we entered the most famous national park in the US. We caught a gorgeous sunset, which lit up the canyon walls in a brilliant red. After walking along a ridge train for half an hour, we scrambled down to an isolated precipice to relax and watch the sun disappear over the horizon. We caught a "sweep" bus back to the main area. For dinner, we cooked what would become known as the "Legendary Spicy Chicken," watched some shooting stars, and crawled into our tent around midnight.
Day three, and what would prove to be test of driving endurance. We pushed the pedal to the metal around 9am and began to blast our way through the Mojave Desert. Our goal was to get to the Pacific Coastline, over 700 miles away, and then up Route One to our campsite near Santa Cruz, another 160 miles north. It became increasingly clear there no way we were going to make it before dark. We set a new goal, to get to the coast before dusk, which we managed after some hair-raising driving. We ended up in Cambria, a dinky little down nestled right against the coast. On our hunt for a restaurant, we were offered a free dinner by some friendly hotel owners who were throwing a party. We ended up watching the town's fireworks over the Pacific and stayed the night at the hotel, giving up on our camping reservation.
Part of the reason we stayed the night was so we could drive up Route One, considered one of the most scenic drives in the US, in the daylight. Of course, it was Tuesday, and I had to be back at IBM to work, and so once again, we hit the pedal to the metal. It was definitely a white-knuckle drive with route one' s snaking, cliff hugging, two lanes. Of course, we pulled over a number of times to take some pics of the lovely scenery.
The following weekend we were at it again, and underestimating the driving time as usual. 400 miles doesn't seem that long, unless you hit San Francisco’s rush-hour traffic and then find highways in Northern California are single lanes. By 8pm we were pretty hungry, so we pulled off the road to a secluded pebbly beach along side a briskly flowing river, where we cooked dinner. We eventually pulled up to our campsite around 10pm, setup the tent quickly and went straight to bed.
We crawled out of our tent at a leisurely 10am, and grabbed a ridiculously filling breakfast at a Denny's. We headed about 10 miles north, into the heart of the Redwoods National Park, about 20 miles shy of the Oregon border. The trees were pretty damn big! We had to wade across a freezing cold creek to get to the trailhead we wanted, and in the end, took the wrong one. We went for a little hike, and eventually turned back to relax by the creek. We even tried building a dam to get back across the creek dry, but the current was too strong. Late in the day, we debated whether we should stay another night in the Redwoods, or push home to San Jose. We chose the latter because Stacey left the following day at 4pm, and we didn't want to blow our entire last day together driving. With an ungodly average speed, we made it home, exhausted, around 3am. On the ride back, we stopped for a long, relaxing, and intimate dinner by the sea to watch the sun set. To top off our week together, we had a "semi-formal" marriage ceremony on the beach, with little bundles of wildflowers.
Total distance covered by car: ~2500 miles.
After a hard-working spring, I needed a quick summer escape before I started working at IBM. I could go anywhere I wanted, and so from a friend's recommendations, I chose Ecuador. I only had 12 days, and so I needed a country that was manageable in size (because when I travel, I really travel). Ecuador is about half the size of France and had a good bus system, which worked well. It also has some of the most diverse flora, fauna and scenery on the planet. My mom was available, and so we scooted off together.
After a brief layover in Bogota, Columbia, we landed in Quito, the capital. After dumping our bags at our surprisingly comfortable hostel, we jumped on one of the inter-city trolleys to head into the old Spanish section of Quito. Of course, nothing is without peril, and we found numerous slashes on our pants when we got off. Rather than going through your pockets with their hands, it far easier for thiefs to cut your pockets open. I was pleased they didn't get a dime off me, but they did manage to slice through 4 layers of clothing and even into my hidden passport belt.
Saturday, and off to Otavalo for its renowned indigenous market. Lots of beautiful handmade textiles. Bought a number of items both for myself and as gifts. Day seemed to be going well until I went to get milk for some tea that night and was mugged. Of course, undaunted from yesterday’s experience, I fought back and managed to walk away unscathed and with my wallet. I was getting a little worried that at this rate, I’d be fighting gorilla forces in the Amazon before long.
The next day, we had organized a tour to visit Cotopaxi National Park. The mountain was beautiful, with volcanic red rock arching up to it’s ice-capped peak at 20,000 feet. We drove most of the way up, and climbed about 900 feet to the glacier rim (elevation 15,748 ft). The air was noticeably thinner! Beyond that, you need serious mountaineering equipment.
To save time, we decided to fly to Cuenca, a major city in the south, on the fourth day. We caught a 9am bus to the most famous Incan ruins in the country, Ingapica, which were ok. We got back to Cuenca by mid afternoon, and explored the city for the rest of the day. Cuenca felt safer than Quito, and helped settle our nerves.
The following day we set out to visit Cajas National Park, a really neat place with some spectacular scenery. The highlight was definitely the “magic jungles,” which were clusters of viney, red-barked trees nestled against the sides of some of the mountains where moisture collected. Later that day, we got on a late night bus to Alusi in preparation for the Devil Nose train, which left the following morning. The bus dropped us off on the side of the highway about 2 miles from the town. It was pitch black, and we were a little nervous about walking. Luckily, we flagged down a family in a pickup truck who let is climb in the back.
We woke up bright and early the next morning to get to the ticket office. The train only operated three times a week and was a popular tourist attraction. We opted to sit on the roof of the train. The rail line used to span the entire country and was considered one of the world’s engineering feats, having tackled the rugged Andean Mountains. Unfortunately, due to poor funding, most of the track has fallen into disrepair, and only a short section from Alusi to Riobamba still operates. The latter city was our destination for the night.
From our home base in Riobamba, we jumped a bus to Guamote, which was having its famed weekly market. We stayed for a few hours taking in the colorful produce vendors in their traditional dress. Later that day, we boarded another bus, this one to Baños, our home for the next three nights.
Baños was very touristy, but still had some charm. The town is named after its hot spring baths, which we took a brief dip in. During our three-day stay, we went repelling down waterfalls, ATVing, swing jumping, and whitewater rafting.
Day eleven, and our last full one in Ecuador. We took at 10am bus from Baños back to Quito. In the afternoon, we went for a quick trip north of Quito to Mitad del Mundo, which is amusement-park-like area built on the equatorial line. We got to have one foot in each hemisphere and jump back and forth.
On the flight home the following day I began to get itchy and, after a quick ER visit (my normal doctors were closed), it was determined I had picked up scabies during my travels. I’m pleased to report I now scabies free.
One of NYU's teams took first place at the Greater New York Regional ACM contest, securing a place in the ACM world finals, being held in Shanghai, China, in 2005. Having helped manage the ACM effort at NYU, the school graciously allowed me to accompany the team as a student representative.
The flight over was pretty exciting. We had a short stop in Chicago before flying direct to Shanghai, which meant the shortest route was up and over the globe, towards the North Pole. Our flight path took us north of the Bering Straight, and then down through Siberia to China. The endless sheets of ice and enormous fissures were unbelievable. However, the height of excitement was definitely the landing in Shanghai, which required two attempts after the first one was aborted three feet before touchdown. United Airlines allows you to listen to air traffic control on the radio, so I knew we were screwed by the frantic exchange between the control tower and the plane’s crew during the final 20 seconds of decent.
The competition was lots of fun, and got to meet a number of distinguished IBMers, who were sponsoring the event. During the periods of down time, I pushed myself to explore the city, which looked like something from Blade Runner with all the neon lights.
Hesham and I were dying to get away from New York and travel a bit together. Unfortunately, Hesh had visa problems, and he couldn't leave the US. So what is the most exotic place in the US? Hawaii of course!
After reading extensively, we selected Maui as our destination, and planed out the details of our 9-day tropical jaunt. Initially, we wanted to do it all by bicycle, but ended up renting a car because of the distances involved. The loops around the two volcanoes at either end of the island void your car rental agreement and are almost entirely on dirt. But after some cautious nods by a few locals, we decided to go for it, and ended up driving almost the entire island. It’s actually really shocking, because the scenery on the offbeat roads was awesome!
One of the trip highlights was driving the illustrious Hana Highway, considered one of the ten most beautiful drives in the world. Snorkeling at Molokini Crater was memorable too. However, the winner in my books was the two days spent at Haleakala National Park.
The dormant, 10,000 foot volcano has a commanding view of the entire island and has a spectacular inner crater. Hesh and I camped both nights. The first night on top of the volcano was madness! Even the rangers said the weather was crazy, with winds gusting up to 100mph. To keep the tent from flying away with all our gear in it, we tied it down to a picnic table. Neither of us got much sleep.
We woke up early the next day to catch the sunrise over the crater, but found nothing but howling winds and mist. It was freezing, even with winter gear. We made a quick detour into the observatory and military installation at the summit, which was a restricted area. From that viewpoint, and because the mist cleared a little, we could see down into the crater for the first time, and it was breathtaking.
After a little debate because of the severity of the weather, we decided we were going to forge ahead as planned, and hike 10.2 miles to a campsite at the far end of the crater. The weather cleared up a bit, but we did get slammed with some painful sandstorms about half way through the trek, which snaked through striking volcanic cinder cones. The weather was peaceful that night, and we got some much-needed sleep. We crawled out of bed briefly around 10pm to take in an amazing star-lit sky.
Because the sky had cleared overnight, the following day was a scorcher. Walking around in a sandy, shade-less, crater at 10,000 feet cooked us alive. To make maters worse, we only had a liter of water left each, which we eked out for about 8 miles. However, the last 2 miles were awful: we had to climb the 3000-foot crater wall back to our car. Hesh and I thought we were going to die from dehydration.
A six-day, family trip to escape New York for Christmas, which involved lots of lounging on the beach, and a few excursions. One trip in particular is worth a mention. After a long day of hiking around El Yunque National Park (the only rainforest in the US) we went to the coast in hopes of getting a boat to the Phosphorescent Bay for a swim. What is really cool about this bay is that the turbulence you make when you swim causes bioluminescent algae to glow around you. We found a man willing to take us out in his boat, but he was booked with other people until 9pm. After killing four hours in this little town, we went back to the dock to get our tour. Unfortunately, someone had got there before us: federal agents. Apparently the guy didn’t have a permit to go to the bay, and so long story short, we didn’t get to go...
To scratch that travel itch before Jane and I had to head back to school, we set out on a seven-day roadtrip. The goal: To hit every major city in Eastern Canada. My destination was back home in New York, but I was dropping Jane off at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA, where she was spending her semester abroad.
With the internet and a good map, I planned out the entire trip. We ended up hitting Sherbrooke, Quebéc, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo, camping each night.
Some highlights include:
June - July 2004
After two weeks of prep in Dar es Salaam, I lived with a team of scientists in the bush for a month assisting a paleontological expedition. The team was doing work at Laetoli, a the famous field site in northern Tanzania, where hominid fossils have been excavated. I collected fossils, helped with logistics, and maintained the tech (laptops and digital cameras charged from solar panels).
Our camp was a day’s drive from Arusha, the closest city. We were in the heart of the Serengeti National Preserve, surrounded by wildlife, including, Warthog, Elephant, Hyena, Ostrich, Zebra, Lion, Wildebeest, Jackal, Buffalo, Impala, Gazelle and more. In addition to the impressive fauna, we were in the center of Maasai country. The Maasai are a beautiful people with a radically different culture and social structure. It was fascinating living among them and interacting with them as best I could.
|© Chris Harrison|