Monday, December 20, 2010

Cairo and Ancient Egypt

Cairo was a lot of fun.  In its center it has become a typical modern, big city, with lots of traffic, hotels, billboards, etc.  There were, however, many other sections of the city that looked and felt exactly like you would imagine Cairo would in a storybook: a maze of narrow streets lined with markets where everyone is trying to sell you something, smoke from pipes and sheesha bongs filling the air, Middle East music playing, and mosque minarets towering high above you. One of the only negatives was the amount of pollution in the air; at times I could not even see the other end of the street because of the smog.

As fun as Cairo was, more compelling of a reason to visit Egypt is to see the remains of the country´s ancient history.  Standing next to the colossal Pyramids and the Sphinx takes your breath away.  The quantity and level of intricacy of the hieroglyphics which cover every inch of the temples leave you mystified.  You feel like a real life Indian Jones as you descend down into the burial chambers of the Queens and Pharaohs.  For those with even the slightest interest in ancient Egypt, the experience is unbelievable.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Though my lack of contact recently may have suggested differently, I am alive and well, and now that I have some time and a stable internet connection, ready to tell the tale of my travels in Africa thus far.

Over the past 35 days, I have been traveling through southern and eastern Africa with an overland tour company called Africa Travel Company (ATC).  ATC and many other companies like it offer camping trips ranging from 1 to 18 weeks.  Travel is done in huge, custom-built 4x4s and groups can be as large as 30 people, not including the trip leader, cook and driver.  There are hundreds of these touring trucks on the road in Africa.  Due to extra safety and transportation concerns, it was decided at the last minute that I would go with an overland tour for this part of my trip.

The choice was a good one, I had an unbelievable time!  We visited every notable destination, explored every major national park and had the chance to do every dream activity, all the while growing closer as a group through daily tasks, long drive-days and the occasional partying.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we had several opportunities to learn about the cultural, economic and health situations of the countries we were in.  This was through visits to village hospitals, schools and orphanages.  These experiences were not only the most eye-opening, but the most enjoyable and rewarding out of the whole trip.

There are now 500+ new pictures in my online album.  They do not have captions yet but I plan on adding some soon.

I am in Nairobi, Kenya currently, but in the morning I am flying to Cairo, where I will explore the many pyramids and temples for one week before moving on to Europe.  Wish me luck and enjoy the pictures (and videos)!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elevation and Altitude

Elevation and altitude have shaped much of my experience in South America over the past several weeks.  Because of this, I thought I would share some of the heights at which I have been and will be later on this year.  I have also included a few other locations to help give perspective.
Sea Level:  0 meters (0 feet), 20.9% Oxygen
Charlottesville, Virginia:  170 meters (557 feet), 20.5% Oxygen
Ashburn, Virginia:  240 meters (787 feet), 20.3% Oxygen
Mile-high Stadium, Denver, Colorado:  1,609 meters (5,280 feet), 17.4% Oxygen
Machu Picchu, Peru:  2,430 meters (7,970 feet), 15.4% Oxygen
La Paz, Bolivia:  3,631 meters (11,913 feet), 13.2% Oxygen
Tungurahua Volcano, Ecuador:  5,023 meters (16,480 feet), 11% Oxygen
Everest Base Camp, Nepal:  5,360 meters (17,590 feet), 10.7% Oxygen
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania:  5,895 meters (19,340 feet), 10% Oxygen
Mount Everest Summit, Nepal:  8,850 meters (29,035 feet), 6.8% Oxygen

*Technical Note: The oxygen percentages stated are not the actual concentration levels, which always remain at 20.9%.  They represent the theoretical, effective concentration levels due to a decrease in the number of oxygen molecules available per breath.

At higher elevations, temperatures drop dramatically and, more importantly, the body is forced to adjust to a lack of oxygen.  During my recent climb of Tungurahua Volcano, for example, the temperature averaged 15 degrees Fahrenheit and I had to stop to gasp heavily for air about every 15 steps.  Of course this is nothing compared to climbing Everest, where temperatures reach as low as -76 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit and almost no one climbs without an oxygen tank.  (Don’t worry Mother I’m only climbing to base camp.)

If you have some extra time, I recommend Googling elevation, altitude and some of the surrounding issues related to travel and climbing.

New pictures.  My time in South America has come to an end.  Africa begins soon!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Machu Picchu, the Nasca Lines and a Desert Oasis

Machu Picchu.  There does not exist a more beautiful sight to see after 4 days of hiking.  Interestingly, even after almost 100 years of formal scientific and scholarly study the function of this Incan site is still uncertain.  Our tour guide told us it was a university of sorts, built to test and practice different agricultural techniques.  Another tour guide passing by said it was a nunnery since 70% of the bones found were female.
Nasca Lines.  About 13 hours west by bus the mysteries continued.  The Nasca Lines are a series of a shallow designs carved into the ground over an 80km (50 miles) desert plateau.  Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are designs of animal, bird, fish or human figures.  The largest figures are over 200 meters (660 ft) across.  (Wikipedia)  Why the Lines were created is unknown, especially considering that the civilization that created them did not have the capability to see or appreciate them from above ground level.  I explored the area by foot instead of by plane like most people so there are only a few pictures.
Huacachina.  Oases do exist!  Check out the pictures of this picturesque getaway spot and the dune buggies (in video) that make it unforgettable.
Yesterday I arrived by plane (only way to get to city) to Iguitos, Peru, located on the mighty Amazon River.  Over the past 24 hours I have been gathering supplies, hiring a local guide and renting a small boat for a 5-day expedition into the Amazon Jungle which will begin tomorrow.  Cross your fingers for lots of wildlife pictures!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cusco, Peru

I am now in Cusco, Peru.  After exploring the city today I will be leaving for Machu Picchu.  I have put up new pictures from my last week or so in Bolivia and also a few pictures of Cusco from this morning.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

La Paz, Bolivia: an eventful first week

I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia at 2am last Friday.  Waiting for me with open arms on the other side of the immigration checkpoint was the family of my good friend from home, Michael Rios.  Michael, his father and his mother arranged for me to have my own apartment in downtown La Paz as well as to be cared for by their extended family members who lived there. 

Later that night, however, I woke up in extreme discomfort.  As it turns out I had caught some type of lung virus that causes a painful inflammation of the lung cavities.  The condition was minor in my case and after a few days in a Bolivian hospital I was back to normal.

Issue number two arose when I discovered that both of my GPS devices had been stolen out of my bag.  The goods were most likely snagged while I was transferring flights in Columbia.  Two claims in the first week of a year long trip, my travel insurance is not a big fan of me.  In all seriousness, obstacles and setbacks like these are to be expected on a trip like mine, but the important thing is to be patient and always have the right attitude.

Health and theft issues aside, my time in La Paz has been wonderful.  The geography is breathtaking (literally, altitude is 3500 + meters), the culture is rich and the adventures are truly unique.  Check out my first week of photos and check back soon for even more.  Next week´s agenda includes biking down "Death Road," an ancient Inca site visit and some nightlife mischief.