Travel Destinations

Greenland - Zambia - Botswana - Japan - Churchill, Manitoba - Panama - Cuba - The Philippines - Croatia - Montenegro - Bosnia and Hercegovina - Kosovo - Peru - Colombia - Israel - West Bank - Jordan - India - Nepal - South Korea - Mongolia

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Greenland

Sermilik Fjord
Icebergs, fjords, whales and wind. Jagged peaks, glacial runoff, freezing waters, and the infamous icecap. There is no doubt that Greenland is an enigma - a land of harsh landscapes, brilliant vistas and exceptionally remote communities.  For the last four months, I've had a vicious case of writers block and have found any attempt to write as mental lockout. Luckily, ideas come and go, but memories can remain fresh if they were important enough to leave an impression. Greenland left an impression.

Like most of you, I've been searching for fulfillment, in order to find ways to make my existence count in my own eyes. Love, friendship, family and experiences are the foundation of my fulfillment and if you are lucky to have all at once, you have struck gold. Sometimes it may feel like one area in life is tipping the scales against all others and that may be true. But if you inspect the elements of your life closely enough, you may find yourself lusting for a balance. But there are other times when life gives you the opportunity to explore and everything else takes a back seat to finding yourself on the edge - and for some of us, that's where we flourish.

I left for Greenland in August, with a 3 day stop over in Reykjavik. I circled the city 50 times on foot, looking for something new I hadn't found since my last visit 8 years ago. And while Reykjavik holds allure, my excitement was to travel to eastern Greenland as fast as possible.


I met our group the first morning of the journey at a hotel in the city center. After introductions, I grabbed the bags for each traveler and helped the driver place them into the transport vehicle. We then sped off to the airport for our flight to Kulusuk. Upon arrival, we found ourselves in a sleepy little town, where we quickly jumped in the back of a danish helicopter that carried us over the icy bay to Tassilaq - which would serve as our base of operation for the next 2 days. Upon arrival in Tassilaq, we met with our guides for the trip, who I would assist throughout to ensure everything went smoothly. There is no shortage on logistical nightmares that Greenland throws at any and all that attempt to visit. Once everyone was settled in, we grabbed the rifle and took the group out for a hike through the valley of flowers, where we saw packs of sled dogs, the town cemetery and a sea of beautiful arctic flowers that dotted the passing landscape. Like many isolated northern towns, there was also broken down snowmobiles in front yards, destroyed washing machines and evidence of difficult winters that the locals had clearly managed to negotiate year after year.

Tassilaq
The following morning, we left Tassilaq by boat and made our way 3 hours north to our base camp. Along the way, we passed hanging glaciers, rigid rock faces, frigid winds, and stunning landscapes. Upon arrival into camp, we explored the valley by doing a wonderful hike across the arctic tundra.

Arctic Flowers

The following morning, we took out the zodiacs and explored the depths of the Sermilik Fjord, navigating a sea of icebergs, with some being as large as city blocks. Every shape, style and formation was present in spades and perfectly imposing. Geared up in our mustang survival suits, we sped into the wind, searching for the next shape, the next picture to capture with our minds and cameras. The icebergs glistened with perfect refraction and offered exceptionally picturesque moments that are rare and important to life.

Continuing on, we navigated and negotiated the ice chunks and flows as they came with great care. We skirted past blocks of ice that were thousands of years old, that would soon melt and find their way back in to the active water cycle of the planet. Watching the amount of ice that had calved, was like watching the earth as a living organism - ever changing and adjusting. As we continued to push forward, we found ourselves within view of the magnificent polar icecap. The icecap is so intensely large, that we we spend the next 45 minutes cruising at break-speeds to reach the face. Arctic blues, gray and powdery whites filled in our color spectrum and lead the way like a beacon blinking in the distance. When we finally arrived, we found ourselves front and center of the Greenland icecap, with perfect views and slack-jawed expressions. It was enormous, sublime and fully unique in ever way. Never have I experienced anything of this magnitude. Truly, it felt inconceivable.

Base camp Greenland
We spent the rest of our time, hiking various areas with no defined trails, as well as kayaking into the open waters in search of wildlife, peace and tranquility. For such a harsh environment, a settled wind creates a vacuum of serentity - probably the last time I've felt it since my return.


Logistics, however are a disaster. For periods of time, we found it difficult to make any judgement call in regards to transportation. Higher ice flows made it challenging to get the boat in to transport our travelers back to Tassilaq. Instead, we elected to have the helicopter fly to meet us at base-camp to get everyone back to safety with no issues. Weather, however complicated matters further and created reports, keeping the helicopters from being able to fly. It quickly became a game of hurry up and wait. To make a call for the boat or the helicopter was a wrong call, because the circumstances were sure to change.


The back and forth continued, until the point when we decide it was best to stay at camp for an additional night and to have the boat come for the travelers in the morning. When morning came, I jumped in the luggage boat and sped off back to town before our travelers got back in the slow boat. The luggage boat moves as fast as the engine will sustain, making it equal to a speedboat moving balls-out for 1 hour in freezing cold temperatures, slamming into waves the entire time. I loved it, but could see it making even the more adventurous a little nervous.


Greenland is unique, compelling and highly remote. Its beauty is unparalleled in certain circumstances and it is truly one of the last places on the planet where one can find themselves feeling as though the world hasn't been fully discovered, monetized and commercial.  Most families in Greenland are still feeding their family members off of subsistence seal hunting. It is a raw destination filled with pure excitement, remote existences and adventures, awaiting those who are willing to make the journey.








Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reykjavik, Iceland - 8 Years Later

Wow. Where have the last 8 years gone?

The last time I was here, I was a wide eyed 24 year old with a freshly minted teaching job in NYC. Travel was my universe and I took in every opportunity to fully immerse myself in any culture I could afford to visit. With a few bucks in my pocket, my close friend and I set off for Iceland during one of my teaching breaks. We rented a Toyota Yaris and drove to the near edges of our gas tank, with Neil nervously and compulsively reminding me that we would soon run out and find ourselves stranded on the side of the road. He also checked in every few minutes to remind me that we agreed not to take the rental car on dirt roads marked a certain color on the map, and to this point, that I had purposely taken the car off-roading and was treating it like a monster truck. 

Needless to say, being 24 in Iceland with one of my wildest friends, meant we spent a good bit of time consuming drink after drink, pushing the boundaries of comfort and ending up in interesting situations fit for a sitcom.  Visiting the island this time, I found myself spending time exploring quite a bit on foot with a clear head and a relaxed demeanor. I've passed my time in museums and restaurants, reading fascinating articles in window seats of charming cafés, while drinking Viking beer and Icelandic Schnapps.

But my time in Reykjavik is short and tomorrow I'll be heading off to Greenland, by way of a flight, a helicopter and a boat.  It's time to start exploring more of the arctic on the world's largest island!

Pics of Greenland to follow!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hoping for the Perfect Moment

Leopard
Hippos
 You sit there patiently positioned with your lens at the ready, knowing any moment, something spectacular is going to happen. You look for signs, movements, the scrunching of the face; knowing full well it can happen so fast that you're camera will fall out of focus and you'll miss the experience.  Do you put the camera down and just soak it all in?  Do you set it to video and lazily record in the hopes of something extraordinary happening, or do you sit in zen like patience, with your body positioned like the trunk of a redwood?

The moment the neck shifts, you apply just enough pressure to bring the outline into focus.  Once in focus, you center the frame. The moment the lips part, you open the shutter frantically and snap with vigor, hoping like hell that just one shot turns out well. Maybe you get it, or maybe you don't. Either way, what a thrilling experience it is to watch.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Botswana Photos

Here are a few unique little creatures that found their way into the front of my lens.


Wild Dog

Giraffe Drinking




Cape Buffalo

Monday, July 20, 2015

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Elephants in the Delta
I awoke in the morning refreshed and ready to explore.  As the sun peaked through my tent and I completed the normal morning rituals, I thought about the noises I heard throughout the night prior that roused me from my sleep: the rustling of branches that brushed along the edge of the canvas tent, the low guttural rumbles from the hippo as they called to each other along the rivers edge, the baboons that fiendishly scampered past the front porch area of my tent, looking for items to steal.  As I stepped out from under the canvas and into a curtain of morning air, I saw clear elephants tracks in the sand, along the pathway to my tent.  I was in the middle of the bush and the division between man and animal were a quarter of an inch thick.

Zebra
After breakfast, we took to the mokoros (dug out canoes) with our local guides and hit the waters of the Delta for some early morning exploration. As we glided through the reed-grass and papyrus stalks, our mokoros carved paths in unique patterns, offering access to regions of the Delta that our motorized skiff were unable to pass.  The water was as pure and clear as any place I've been on earth and when I asked the guide about their thoughts on it's safety as a drinking source, they assured me it was fit to drink as is, particularly due to the way it filters through sand and grass along it's travels from Angola to Botswana.

Part of a wild dog pack
In the front of our pack was our guide Lazi, who packed the rifle with showstopper bullets that were used for the walking portion of our safari.  While in a safari vehicle, wildlife sees primarily a profile of the vehicle and passengers, meaning most wildlife does not assess the Land Rovers as a threat, but rather a large creature. On foot, you reenter the food chain and are much more vulnerable.  A rifle mitigates the chances of an incident.

We walked and discussed the tracks along the way of different wildlife, including elephant, leopard, antelope, impala, kudu and cape buffalo.  The guides skills were beyond expectation, making even the most mundane aspects of the ecosystem seem interesting and clearly important.  It pays to travel with a pro.

Vulture
2 days later, we left the heart of the Okavango Delta in search of big game species and without a doubt, found our fill in the Gomoti Concession. As our bush-plane touched down on the dusty and remote runway in Gomoti, the evident differences in the landscape were as plain as day.  The Delta was a vast network of waterways, filled with abundant bird species (more than 400), along with hippos, crocs, elephant and lizards.  Gomoti, on the other hand, was arid land, populated with acacia trees of every type.  Here, we would find nearly all the big game that most folks envision when the imagine the game of the African landscape. Impala, kudu and tsessebbe poked out their curious faces every few feet, while elephant moved in family herds across the tire tracks ahead of us.  Before we new it, our lenses became fixed on giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, wild-boar, birds of all species and ground vermin. Things were starting to heat up.

Adorable
The following day was packed with game drives, fantastic food, south African wine and bush tea. While we were out on our final game drive of the night, our guide brought us upon some matted down grass and pointed out a pungent smell in the air.  He then alerted us that we would soon be coming across some lion that must be nearby, as the smell of urine was thick and abundant. 2 or 3 minutes later, we sat peering into the reflection of a lion's eye, as it looked back at our vehicle with marginal curiosity and borderline indifference.  This was our first true predator of the trip. a few feet away, rested his companion equal in size and grandeur. We carefully pulled within a few feet of them, careful not to disturb their rest. A feeling of awe rushed over me as I took survey of the landscape around. Lions, just feet away.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tales of a Tired Traveler - Making my way to Botswana


Views of the Okavango Delta below
A few weeks ago, I came back form a safari in Botswana and Zambia as the title of this post so cleverly states.  Although my ideas were fresh and the travel dust had yet to be washed of my skin, I thought it best to wait until all of my photos were available to share, before posting anything in regards to these two incredible wildlife destinations. Lord knows no one is interested in hearing about animals, they just want to see the little fellas.

I sell safaris, wildlife adventures and natural history trips for a living. Whether it be Antarctica, Spitsbergen, Greenland, Africa, South America, or the 50 other far flung destinations my company offers, my job is to share the grandeur of a particular place, in order to inspire others to lunge from the grip of their comfort zone and take a crack at something unique and something different.  Once in a while, I've given the opportunity to explore these adventures myself on a site inspection, in order to learn how our operations function abroad and to taste the grandeur myself, so I can come home and share my first hand knowledge with those that also have a thirst to see what's beyond their normal day to day.  It's a good gig.
Kingfisher

5 minutes off the plane
On this journey, I flew first to Johannesburg, via Atlanta, from Denver.  My first flight was delayed by 4 hours for mechanical issues, so by the time we landed in Atlanta, the departures sign read that the doors at my gate were already closed.  I sprinted to the gate from three terminals away, only to be met by an indifferent Delta agent, who noted, that while the plane was still there and was clearly delayed for take off, they would not reopen the doors once they were already closed.  I'm pretty sure there are some bullshit aviation rules for why this is a policy, however, non of that was shared with me, but rather I was given the lazy man's excuse of "there is nothing I can do".  Our ability to fly as a species is truly amazing and it's something that I still marvel at every time I'm up in the air. Most airlines, however have managed to sour the experience, at least domestically.  Does anyone else lust for the days of Pan Am? I of course never flew Pan Am, as they shut down in 91', but I choose to imagine that their experience was a superb departure from the crap that passes for customer service these days.  I sound like an old man right now.  When the hell did that happen?
A something something stork
I managed to get rebooked on another flight that would take me via Dubai, and then on to Johannesburg after that, in order to catch my next leg that was bound for Maun, Botswana. 25 hours later, I stepped off the flight in Maun, walked through customs and immigration and headed out with my bag to meet our guide Lazi.  After collecting the other travelers that would be joining us, Lazi, along with the pilot, took us out to a small bush-plane with just 12 seats, and piled in all of our gear.  Before we knew it, we were back up in the air again and off to our first camp in the Okavango Delta.  The Delta is an exception mass of water that collects in the Northeast corner of Botswana on the border with Namibia. With its source roots in Angola, pristine water travels south east, through Angola and Namibia, until it reaches a series of spillways in Botswana, across an area of tremendous size.  Game from all around, travel vast distances in order to come to the Delta to drink it's water and feed on it's various offerings, herbivores and carnivores alike. 


When we landed at the Jao concession airstrip, a Land Rover was waiting to scoop us up, in order to take us to a small boat, where we would navigate amongst papyrus plants and water reeds, before arriving at our first camp. All in all, it was more than 34 hours of travel, and damn did it feel good to be in the African bush.  I settled in to camp that evening with a few sundowners (gin and tonics) and promptly hit the pillow like I had't slept in a thousand years.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kyoto, Temples and Kitchen Knives

Just one of Kyoto's Temples by night
What can I say?  It's very easy to fall in love with Kyoto.  It happened when I traveled there 10 years  ago, and it only took a few minutes after arriving this time around to remember why. Kyoto is tremendously historic, perfectly quaint and  completely charming from head to toe. It was also nice to have a few more bucks in my pocket this time, so I didn't need to sleep under any bridges, or stay in a flophouse run by a former North Korean soldier.


We arrived by Shinkansen on Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after landing in Tokyo. As the cherry blossom festival had just taken place a few days prior, the city was crowed with domestic and international travelers alike.  This gave Kyoto a buzz, filling the city with lingering travelers exploring the many temples, gardens and winding backstreets Kyoto has to offer.  We jumped right into the action, quickly dropping our bags and hit the street.  Strolling from temple to temple and garden to garden, we took in the peaceful air of the city that quickly settles onto your shoulders like a warm blanket.  After a few beers or a bottle of sake, the tension in your muscles dissipates and you find yourself awash in tranquility.  You feel like you're in a town of 15,000 when you're actually in a town of 1.5 million.

Our second day in Kyoto took us to the main market in central Kyoto that morning, stopping at stand after stand and sampling several types of Japanese specialties.  From fish balls to tiny squid, we stuffed our faces trying to take in all the varied flavors, some of which were less than appealing.  After a few passes through the market, we found the most important store of the day we had eagerly planned to visit - Aritsugu Knife Shop.

The history of Aritsugu runs deep.  The Aritsugu family opened their store back in 1560, over 18 generations ago, honing their craft of blade making by first producing samurai swords that were highly valued by the Japanese elite and royalty. Once the country fell into peaceful times, they transitioned into a cutlery producer for some of Japan's top culinary masters.  The walls of their modest shop are lined with every possible type of fish knife one can possess.  I fixed my eyes on a beautiful, handmade santoku, which they carefully pulled from the counter for inspection. After agreeing on this choice and going over pricing, the shopkeeper wrote down my name and passed the blade over to one of the craftsmen. He then pounded my name in Japanese characters carefully into the side of the blade which is customary for them to do.


You might say that writing a blog post about a kitchen knife seems a little absurd.  You may be right.  You also might be a big jerk. I'm kidding - just checking to see if you are still awake.  But for me, it embodies so much more. Craft is something that is going by the wayside.  Sure, there's been a resurgence of craft beer, craft cheese, craft kombucha and every other craft Brooklyn, Boulder and guys with silly facial hair can shove down your throat.  The beauty here however, is that 1 family, for more than 18 generations, felt compelled that what they were doing was important enough for the next generation to take over, continually perfecting their art and passing it on to their children. The precision, care and time they've each put in from generation to generation is astounding, making them some of the finest knife crafters on the planet.

10 years ago I stood in front of many a knife shop in Japan, hoping to one day own a blade that's been so meticulously crafted.  This time I was able to do it. Frankly, there may be no better travel artifact to bring home from Japan then a blade from Aritsugu.