Originally posted on October 16, 2006 (my thirtieth birthday) update coming soon
I will be honest ten years ago when I started out on a quest to travel, I never once held this as a goal. In fact, I had never even totaled up the countries I had visited until returning from the Mongol Rally. Upon turning twenty, I had been to exactly two countries; Canada and the United Kingdom. My twenties were packed with travel far and wide, sadly it is highly doubtful that I will ever see times like that again. It was all capped by this little trip called the Mongol Rally. While on the rally, Barry of the Dukes introduced me to one of his goals, to visit thirty countries before he turned thirty. He’s two days older than me, the old man of the convoy I might add.
Upon my return to home, I sat down and totaled up my countries, ending up dismayed with a 28 count. After a bit of pouting, I reflected and realized I had forgotten a few very significant locales; Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Singapore. Though I felt a bit guilty, I was happy nonetheless with the achievement. The fact that there were a slew of British occupied territories that I could not count eased my guilt. I have been to Anguilla, Grand Cayman, and Gibraltar, all of which still report to the Queen.
So today was my thirtieth birthday, it was depressing and adequately mundane. I ate cold pizza across the table from my daughter, who departed the birthday table in favor of chasing the cat around with Bob. I sat there alone, gnawing on the rubbery day old pizza, contemplating the past and the future. I am not one for birthdays and I am not afraid to let people know that. As a result, my birthdays are generally about self absorbed pouting. I am not proud. Despite what some may consider a pretty decent life, I feel like I lack any real accomplishments, outside of the ball of fire chasing the cat. I guess that’s what drives me to do stupid things and I hope to continue doing stupid things. In that light, I have assembled a list of twenty random things I hope to accomplish in the upcoming years.
1. Participate in a televised game show, the cheesier the better
2. Visit Antarctica
3. Establish and run my own business
4. Be listed as either a director or producer for some sort of video or movie
5. Teach my daughter to snowboard
6. Heliboard in Alaska
7. See some sort of literature of my creation in print
8. Operate heavy machinery (I’m talking stuff that moves serious earth)
9. Complete the Northwest passage snowboard trip, visiting Greenland, Baffin Island, the Gaspe, Newfoundland, and Iceland
10. Live out of a truck for a summer out west
11. Have a beer named after me
12. Learn to operate snowcats, design and build a snowpark for a ski area
13. Finally take Jen on a honeymoon
14. Compete in a Demolition derby at the Addison Field Days
15. Organize and promote an eclectic music festival in Vermont
16. Served in state level elected office, preferably governor
17. Perform volunteer work in an impoverished country
18. Get on television holding up a highly sarcastic sign at some sporting event, preferably an event like badminton
19. Become competitive at curling, with an ultimate goal of the olympics
20. Organize and participate in a rally similar to the Mongol Rally starting on American soil
I will keep you all posted on my progress. ciao ciao Seth
When I got off the plane in Dar es Salaam at the end of July, I really didn't know exactly what to expect. I knew I was moving to a very large city. I knew I wasn't going to be in the bush. But I really did not have any concept of what life would be like. Kat - my roommate - had explained to me over email that we lived in a very "local neighboorhood". Translation: We are the only white people in our neighborhood. At first it was less than comfortable. Now that I have been here a little over a month, I am starting to really love it. Here are the highlights:
Kids - There are a bunch of kids that live on our street that are usually playing outside. When we come out of the house, they all run up to us and dance around chanting "mazooooonnnngggoooo, mazooooonnnngggoooo" in sing-songy voices. We play around with them a little as we walk down the street.
Produce Stand - At the end of our street, there is a family that has a fruit/vegetable stand. We go there almost every day to pick up onions or peppers or bananas. All the produce is on tables that are shielded from the sun by ratty old sheets and tarps. Half buried tires serve as a buffer from any rogue vehicles that might run off the road. They don't speak a word of english. They always speak really fast to us in Swahili and then crack up when I just shrug my shoulders and tell them I don't understand. Maybe they are saying "Thank goodness the mzungus are here so that we can overcharge them for vegetables again". But last time, they threw in a couple extra onions for free, so I doubt it.
Duka - Across the street from our house is a small shop that they call a Duka. It sells everything from bottled water and sodas to laundry detergent to cell phone minutes. The guy who runs it teaches me new swahili words every time I go over to buy water. And he always gives us the coldest water he has...
Creepy Graveyard - Around the corner is a graveyard that is completely run down. There is a path that goes through it... but the path runs over some graves. There is a large tree in the center and a ton of headstones all around it. I can't imagine how they packed in so many bodies in such a small area. During the day, there is a goat that hangs out there and eats all the garbage that is collecting. I'm not really sure what to make of it all.
Chickens - A lot of families around here have chickens. Our street is full of them. They just hang out in the middle of the road and eat garbage. Every couple of weeks or so, I see a new batch of babies hanging out with mama hen in the main street garbage pile. They are pretty rugged and totally fearless. They don't even move for cars.
Local Pub - At the end of the street, there is a little bar. I have no idea what the name of it is. All I know is that their beers are about Tsh 1300 ($1) a piece and that they play loud music. I've been there once. It's very local...
Blonks Barbershop - I don't know why, but everytime I walk by this sign, I just crack up.
Originally posted on September 18th, 2006
Eight days have passed since I arrived on Koh Tao, an island located southeast of Chumphon in the Gulf of Thailand. I first thought I would only spend four to five days on the island, next bought tickets that were going to keep me here for nine, then pushed everything back a week so that I could obtain my Open Water and Advanced Open Water Diving Certification (capitals are mine). Of course, other factors that contributed to my extended stay include more time with the fantastic fellow ralliers of Team Aspiritus, Pix and Miles, the amazing group of friends I’ve met on the island since the day of my arrival, a chance encounter with a college friend, and the opportunity to swim with the sharks 30m below the surface.
So it’s with a bittersweet mentality that I write this post. I could not have imagined the time spent here so far - whether passing out in AC Bar’s bathroom and having my money courteously removed from my pockets or spending time in conversation with a fellow human who previously knew not of my existence and vice versa, and getting along with them in a fashion that only world travels could allow. I realize that my view of Koh Tao is heavily tilted toward a romantic ideal that I simply can’t maintain or contain. I can’t stay here forever and I can’t keep others. I also can’t take it home with me. What I can do is make the most of my time, make the most of the friendships forged, and move on knowing that something special did take place. I may not have the photos to prove it, but I’ve got something better anyway.
It’s strange that I sit here and pay for time to pass when I could easily move away from the computer and spend the rest of my time in a manner much more fitting for the end of a trip around the world. What is that manner? If you know, please tell me, because I’m so tied up that it pains me some just to think about it. I’ve seen the potential for a life of varied experiences and I know that home holds the standards and potential as well. Is it the finite nature of life that makes each event so meaningful? Is it knowing that we never know when or where or how our lives will unfold that makes the good so good and the bad able to be dealt with? Is it having so many questions and nearly no real answers? Or am I deluding myself and trying to hold on to something when letting it go would make it more rewarding?
I can’t say.
I leave Koh Tao this Friday and eventually make it back to Chicago on Wednesday. It has been very good to be here; it will be good to get home. This whole thing has got me wondering, though - what else is out there? If you feel like finding out, give this new world traveler a note. And I want you to know that it was one of my greatest pleasures to meet you here and now.
When I am in the US, I generally don't eat meat. It's not any moral stance about eating animals though. It's really more about being comfortable about where my food is coming from. I still enjoy a good King Salmon or Halibut filet when I am traveling in Alaska. But for the most part, I stay away from flesh. Until now.
Eating in Africa has been interesting. I have found that ordering meals differs greatly from place to place. The majority of places we go for lunch are very quick. But they don't have menus. And if they do, they might as well not. They generally don't a majority of the things listed on there. What I have learned to do is just go in and ask what they have. Usually it's some combination of starch and meat. The starch is either white rice, ugali, or chips (fries) and the meat is chicken, fish, beef or goat. They serve it to you on a lunch platter with some red sauce and green spinach looking stuff. As for the meat, there is no hiding what you are eating. If you order fish - you get a whole-God-damned-fish. If you order chicken, they will just bring out every part of the chicken and it's your job to find our where the meat is. Needless to say, utensils are kind of useless. One day, I was in one of the villages eating chicken and rice with the three African men I was traveling with. When the chicken was served, I tried to cut it with my flimsy butter knife and they started cracking up. "This is village chicken. It spends it's life running around after hens. You better have strong teeth." I didn't. The waiter ended up having to bring out some small pieces of 'mzungu chicken' instead.
Most dinners I have had outside Dar have been a little different. They are usually made to order. And when I say that, i mean when you order chips, somebody goes into the kitchen and starts peeling a potato. Dinner can take anywhere from 1-2 hours to be served. Last night, at our hotel, I ordered chicken and chips for three (Kat, her boyfriend Brett and myself). They went back to the little chicken coop behind the hotel and killed a chicken. Two hours later i was tearing chicken flesh off bones with my hands and teeth quietly singing that old cruise commercial jingle too myself "if they could see me now..."
From the minute I set foot in the Dar es Salaam airport, I knew I had entered a different world. One that was not as convenient as the one I usually exist in. So now, three weeks in, I have started compiling a list of the little things that I will never take for granted again.
Toilet paper in public bathrooms – I would say that 50% of the time that I enter a public restroom, I walk into a room with a hole in the floor that you are meant to squat over. The other 50% of the time – where a toilet seat is actually available – has about a 46.7% chance of having toilet paper. I’ve stopped expecting it.
Shower Curtains –At least it makes for a clean floor. And a wet toilet seat.
High speed internet – Was there a dial-up modem slower than 14.4k? If there is, that is what Tanzania is using. One of those. For the entire country.
Traffic Lanes – Tanzania was colonized by the British. So they are meant to drive on the left side of the road. Which they do. Unless somebody else is driving slow in front of them. Or something else is in the way on the left side of the road. Or they feel like driving on the right side of the road. I’m considering a helmet.
If you look closely under the concrete, you will see a series of sticks holding the parking lot up.
Street Names/Addresses – This is the direction I give to the cabs that pick me up: “Drive towards Mwananyamala hospital, keep going past it for about 1 km and then turn right at the large pile of garbage on the street. Watch out for the chickens. My house is the white one on the left across from the mass of children pointing and yelling ‘Mzungu’”
2X4’s: I’m not really sure what these sticks are holding up here, but I am sure that it would be done differently in the US.
Cops with Inconspicuous Guns: I have been traveling around the borders of The Congo, Burundi and Rwanda for the past week. As we drive around from village to village, we often have to pass through road blocks manned by Tanzanian Police officers with giant guns. There is good reason for this. These bordering countries are not always stable. And there are refugee camps everywhere in this part of the country. However, being stopped by Africans with green uniforms and large weapons always conjures up some stereotypical fears about the continent in general.
I have been trying to get my bearings here in Dar. And not having easy access to internet has been a bit of a hindrance. I’m not sure where to start. I’ve been here a week now and it feels … well it feels like a week. I definitely feel like I have a weeks worth of mosquito bites on my body. But hopefully that will change with my newly installed mosquito net.
So I got here with some knowledge of the location thanks to my friends Robyn and Wren who had spent some time in the country. I am living in the city of Dar es Salaam with my friend and co-worker Kat. It’s a large city on the coast of Tanzania (bordering the Indian Ocean). The city itself is very cool and full of history. There are about 2 million people living here. It has a huge expat population. So there are places you can go that are mostly white. We do not live in these places. We live in a very local neighborhood. We are the only white people that I have seen in our neighborhood. I like it a lot. Whenever we walk down the street people stare and say “Mzungu” or “Mambo” or “Hello Sister”. It’s funny. The streets around our neighborhood are full of commerce. There are fruit and vegetable stands everywhere. Also broken furniture stands. And used electronics. And tons of clothing. Even a few butcher shops with huge chunks of rotting meat hanging in the windows. Pretty much anything you could possibly want. Nothing is marked, so you have to barter a little. We have a little fruit/veggie stand at the corner of our street that we get food from a couple times a week. We have no fridge, so we have to use whatever we buy as soon as we get it. Otherwise, the fruitflies take over the entire kitchen where they party with the house flies and the mosquitoes…
The thing that strikes me here is the garbage. It’s really amazing how unaware we are of how much garbage we produce. But where I am living now, they do not have landfills. Whatever garbage you produce, they burn. I am really struggling with this for a few reasons. First, we have to drink bottled water. There really is no other choice. We could boil all our water, but we have no refrigerator. So we have this mass of plastic that is just going to get burned with the garbage. I suppose that if nothing else, it is good for me to be aware. Hopefully I will bring that understanding back to the US when I come home.
To get around we mostly take cabs and these little cars called Bajaj’s. Bajaj’s are like tiny little 3-wheeled jeep wranglers with insane drivers behind the wheel. I’m not really sure how safe they are. There is traffic everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of rules to driving. Basically, wherever you can shove your car or Bajaj in the mass of traffic, you do it. Even if it means turning into a bunch of oncoming traffic or driving on the sand on the side of the road or sidewalks (Only Bajaj’s do this). One night Kat and I were out to dinner with a bunch of people she knows (mostly Americans). When we went to go home, we just flagged down a Bajaj. Everybody was like “um, are you guys going to be ok in that?” Between the neighborhood we live in and the mode of transportation we choose, I’m pretty sure they all think we are insane.
I have met some good people. The people that Kat has introduced me to are mostly Americans and Europeans that have come here to either volunteer or start-up companies. The two people that I have spoken to the most are a guy named Jamie from a start-up called EGG-tech and this guy Mbwana who is a native Tanzanian that worked for Microsoft for a long time and is now moving to San Fran. Mbwana has been to Alaska a bunch of times and loves it there. I am pretty sure that I have met one of the only Tanzanians to ever go to Alaska. It was pretty funny sharing stories with him. Jamie’s company is doing something similar to what my company (dissigno) is doing. They are doing a battery subscription service to help the rural Tanzanians stop using kerosene. It’s an interesting business model and all the people involved are MIT and Harvard graduates. Nerd city…
Work is interesting so far. I was able to get out to one village that we are distributing lights in. The village was called Charambe and it is right outside Dar. It is very poor. It was like being in Haiti again though in that the children followed us everywhere and kept asking for their photos to be taken. They were pretty cute. The population was predominantly Muslim (which is actually the same throughout Dar). To get there, Kat and I took a bus – called a Dala Dala. The bus costs about $0.25 and is always overcrowded. There is so much traffic that you are almost always stopped. And it’s hot. But on the plus side, they play really good African music …. Really super loud. Which I suppose would get old fast if you were on the bus for more than the 1.5 hours that Kat and I were.
Besides that, I haven’t traveled much yet for work. But I will be starting next week. I am going to go to an area of the country called Kigoma and do some site assessments for solar installations there with the Rural Energy Authority (part of the ministry of energy). After that, I will travel to a village called Karagwe which is north by Lake Victoria. I am pretty excited to get out and see the country.
Besides being a big city with lots of buildings and malls and people, Dar is actually a beautiful coastal city. My second day here, Kat took me to this island called Bongoyo Island. It is about a mile long and absolutely incredible. We walked around all day and found some great crabs and starfish and even eels (in the tide pool where the restraint chucks their fish guts). It’s a really short boat ride from the peninsula so it’s a great day trip when you just want to chill out.
That’s about it. All in all, I really am happy to be here. I love the area and am really excited about the work we are doing. The people here are so nice. And I am learning a ton every day.
It went down like this. I was in a particularly intelligent place, fresh off the filming of "Hey, Rube". Dom had dropped off the final cut on his way to a Friday Night Wiffle in Waltham. I quite unexpectedly was available for a little wiffle and caught a ride with the star and editor of Hey, Rube.
Not long after the game started, the weather took a serious turn for the worse. Sheets of rain were throbbing from the dark sky. The wifflers played on. The crackle of thunder from nearby bolts of lightning started to pierce the ears. The wifflers played on.
And then in the midst of all this natural disaster, I stepped to the plate to face my old time nemesis, Claudio (Dominic). It gets a little hazy during this part but at some point everything went white. I was standing in the batter's box, in a puddle, with metal rivets on the bottom of my cleats when zappity zap.
NOTE: At this point in the story you are sure to ask yourself:
1. why were you playing wiffle in a thunderstorm
2. why were you wearing cleats to play wiffle?
Neither question is easily answered.
At the instant it happened, I crouched down and felt an awful shock in my knee. I grew up on a farm and have been bitten by the electric fence more times than I would like to remember. This was different, it came from the inside out. Now mind you, I have a couple of screws in that knee from ACL surgery a few years back.
We took a break to have a cold one but resumed the game once the heavy stuff passed. I blame the whole episode on Caddyshack. For the past couple of days, all of my lower extremities have felt pretty crappy. Well to be honest, I have felt just plain yuck.
For your information, this type of lightning strike is called a ground strike or step voltage strike. It generally only affects the lower body and it is difficult the gauge the level of electricity one takes on. Obviously since I can still type, walk, drive, and perform around the world with a yo-yo, I took a very low level.
I have a personal list of ways to die that is constantly changing both in content and in sequence. Generally thought these three are in the top positions:
1. Mauled by bear (preferably grizzly, I don't think a black bear would qualify as very cool)
2. Shark Attack (while surfing really big waves, not boogie boarding, ever)
3. Lightning Strike (as it turns out most people don't die, just end up dumber and sorer)
Now having been through number three, I think I would like a combination with the top two. For instance, there I was playing wiffle ball at the beach when a grizzly bear ran on to the field and started to maul me. I was beating him off with the wiffle bat until that bolt of lightning struck me. I staggered into the water stunned by the lightning but still swinging the bat. It was at this point that a Great White ate me, spitting out the bat for generations to marvel at. Yeah that would be number one way to die, hands down.
We left Vermont in search of the season's last snow and returned with a revived appreciation of our country. We drove more miles in a week than anyone should ever take on. We violated the cardinal rule of travel by zooming through amazing park after amazing park without stopping to sop up the deliciousness. And yet we managed to discover so much and rallied a love that refuses to perish.
Final Stats: 6400 miles, 8 days, 3 days snowboarding on 3 separate mountain ranges, 15 states, way too many hours of driving, 3 nights camping, 2 nights sleeping in the car, one Orwell Memorial Day parade, and one couple that rediscovered their country and themselves.
VIDEO: Mission 1: Endless Winter
Original Video Post
ESSAY: A Road Trip of Rediscovery
A little farther down I80, we screamed out onto the Bonneville Salt Flats and were completely awestruck. The spectacle of pure, flat plains of white stretching out in all directions is something that has no equal in my memory bank. The phrase, "I wasn't expecting this at all" kept creeping into my head and I started to question my views on this trip and the country as a whole. Obviously, I have heard of the Bonneville Salt Flats. I am a slight fan of speed and absolutely loved the the movie, "The World's Fastest Indian". But like many of the amazing places in America, I have been complacent about its existence. Seeing it in the movies and knowing that it was in my backyard seemed adequate enough, I didn't need to seek it out for the in person experience. I was wrong, like most things of grandeur you need to see them first hand to fully appreciate the beauty and majesty. Jen didn't know it at the time and honestly I probably didn't either, but at this point we set out to see as much of America as possible while getting in a few days of snowboarding along the way.
Head West Young Man (and Woman)
I smiled and laughed to myself, the trip had just started and we were already behind schedule. I was sitting on the orange line of Boston's T, heading out to Stoneham Ford to pick up the Fiesta. I laughed because the adventure was underway and there was no reason to stress. This is the journey. Photos only for now, text laters...
Snowbird Photo Post
We arrived in the Snowbird parking with a sense of accomplishment and relief. We left Vermont at 9 pm on Friday evening and showed up in Utah a mere 41 hours later. We were sort of rested from our car based slumber in Cheyenne and mostly clean from the fine water of Little America. Excitement quickly wiped away all other feelings, we were not just here to visit, we were here to snowboard in May. Epic.
Utah to Mammoth via Reno Photo Post
When we started dreaming up this trip, the primary driving force was snowboarding. We set out to ride as much terrain as possible in a relatively short clip of time. Somewhere along the line, the riding became a secondary player and the vast countryside of the America took the lead.
I stand here with my hand up, admitting my guilt to the world. For all my travel and supposed culture, I had become complacent and under appreciative of my homeland. This trip has ignited an interest and a desire for further exploration. More to come.
Mammoth Photo Post
After a long and spectacular day of driving from Reno to Mammoth, we were greeted with sleet/rain/horizontal wind at the ski area. It was 1 pm and like a true east coaster, I waited it out. Things looked better at 2, so away I went to get my 2 hours of fun in. Unfortunately the management of Mammoth had other plans and informed me that their hours had recently changed to 7:30-2pm. Skunked.
We returned today to gorgeous weather and prime spring snow. Sensationally sensational.
Mammoth to Zion via In N Out Burger Photo Post
With the adrenline still flowing from an epic day of riding at Mammoth, Jen and I saddled up the Fiesta and departed the pomp of Mammoth Lakes. The trip's focus had shifted from riding as much as possible to rediscovering the grandeur and beauty of our homeland. With this in mind, we charted a course for one of the most beautiful national parks in the country.
Zion Photos Only
I have been hearing tales of Zion National Park for many years now. It seems to be universally praised by the well traveled. Our original plan did not allow time or proximity to visit the park. However as we progressed across the land, our focus has shifted slightly. This opened up a window of opportunity to visit the famous spectacle of geological wonders. These are the photos minus text. Enjoy.
Zion to A-Basin
It took a bit of effort to pull away from Zion and concentrate on the long drive to Colorado. Both Jen and I were completely blown away by the scale and beauty of the landscape. There is little doubt that we will spend an extended stretch in southern Utah at some point.
We drove up old 89 to see a bit more of the countryside. It is amazing that you can start the day in amber colors of Utah and end in the snow of Colorado.
We went from 90F to 28F in a few hours. The temperature and the snow/rain drove us into a hotel for the evening in Frisco. The full night of rest did us well and we made it to A-Basin early in the morning. The difference in weather was as striking as the change in atmosphere from the other ski areas. It was nice to get away from the scene and get back to a more Vermont feel. Unfortunately the weather changed to match as well. Epic greybird with ample rain to greet the weary travelers. We trooped on and were rewarded with a parting in the clouds.
The summer of 2003 broke all temperature records in England and I spent it working in that little metal box pictured below. We were rebuilding a power plant just outside of London, putting in 14-16 hour days, 7 days a week. It was a truly miserable experience, save for one ritualistic part of each day.
At the conclusion of the shift, we would all congregate in our rental cars and proceed to rally to the hotel. During these rips through suburban England, my rental Focus opened my eyes to the potential, quality, and performance of a Ford vehicle. I have finally had the same experience on US soil.
This is the 1000 mile review of the Ford Fiesta
I am part of the "if America ever built a decent car for me, I would buy it" crowd. Straight line speed without cornering ability is worthless to me. I like to drive, to shift, and most importantly to turn. I have put the Fiesta through the paces now and it performs exceedingly well in all these aspects. Honestly, I really wanted to find some serious faults to establish my objectivity out of the gates. And while there are things I would change and aspects that don't fully work with my driving style (more on this), overall this car lands on the bull's eye.
A few days ago, I thrashed it over Middlebury Gap in VT, going east to west with no other cars in sight and Dead Unicorn on the speakers. This is one of my favorite drives to check a car out in a variety of conditions. The Fiesta really shines in corners, feeling more stable the higher the speed. One of my core gripes with American cars has been soft suspensions and loose steering. Neither is evident in this car, it is such a tight package in the twists. Despite being a smaller vehicle, the 1.6L 119 HP engine provides plenty of pop to pull out of corners and set you back in your seat.
Last night, I let a few auto fanatics give the ole Fiesta a spin. FerrariSteve and AudioDave (I made the second nickname up) are both REAL car guys and know their stuff (click Ferrari Steve's name to find out more). The Fiesta received universal thumbs up from both, reiterating what I stated earlier. FerrariSteve's only complaint was around the color of the control panel section of the dash. AudioDave shared my shock that there are drums on the rear and that the E Brake seems a bit, um, lacking. We both understand the reasoning but would really like to see discs. Seriously that was it.
I have discussed the field of competition that the Fiesta plays in with a few folks and all agree that it is a shame to consider the Fit or Yaris a real competitor. The only peer in the pack has to be the Mini Cooper due to the attention to detail and the level of performance.