Category Archives: RTW #1

Photo: Sand Dunes in Sossusvlei, Namibia

Taken June 28, 2009

Before anyone accuses me, I swear this is not Photoshopped and this is actually what the sand dunes looked like.  Deep in the Namib desert, the oldest desert on the planet, the sand dunes can get up to 350 meters high which makes them the tallest in the world.  The dunes are so stark that the area is said to be a popular landmark for the astronauts in fact!

The amazing thing is how when driving here the sand just shows up in clumps on the ground as if a giant’s child dropped scoops from his sand pail until the dunes dominate the horizon.  How did it get here?  Amazingly from the Atlantic Ocean over 50km away- the mighty Orange River deposits so much land that a mere tributary created the second largest canyon in the world, which is deposited on the land and picked up by the wind.  Over time, some geologists have estimated tens of millions of years, the sand is deposited here.

A final interesting detail though is how in the winter (when this picture was taken) the direction of the wind changes so it comes off the mountains located leftward in this picture, so the sand dunes shift accordingly.  See how the dunes in the distance lean towards the right?  It’s because the wind blows the sand up the straight side of the dune over the crest and then finally settles on the far side due to the wind shade, giving the dune its normal shape.  In a few months the wind will change direction and the crests will face the opposite direction, ensuring that these dunes don’t move very much over time and can get so tall.

Oh, and the dunes are orange because of iron oxide, the same reason Mars is red.  But you knew that, right?

Photo: Painting Retouch, Royal Palace in Bangkok

Taken February 9, 2009

The Royal Palace in Bangkok is filled with amazing artwork like the mural above, but time and the extreme humidity can’t do good things to the paintings!  This artist was busy at work retouching the gold- you can see how much he’s done, and how much he still had to do…

Photo: Capri, Italy

Taken March 2009

This helpful advice is brought to you by the port authority on the island of Capri in Italy, proving that Engrish is not an exclusively Asian commodity.  Though I won’t make much fun of them because c’mon, it’s sensible advice!

Video: Zipline, Gibbon Experience, Laos

Not a photo today, but I would argue it’s way more awesome!  Last year while in Laos I went on The Gibbon Experience deep in the jungles of northern Laos, which basically involved hiking and ziplines and living in treehouses for a few days.  If you ever find yourself in that part of the world I highly recommend it!  You can read my full write-up of the Experience here, complete with the biggest accident I had on my rtw that somehow involved physics saving my life and my only experience with medical quackery.  Good times.

Photo of the Day: Leopard in Mala Mala, South Africa

Taken June 15, 2009

Because today is the long-anticipated start date of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the mascot is a leopard, here is a real live one chowing down on the last remnants of a baboon at Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa.  Not to be confused with the other time we saw a leopard chowing down at night!

For anyone interested I plan to cheer for Team USA this year- I am usually unpatriotic and cheer for anyone-but-the-US in international sporting on the grounds that we throw so much money at sports it’s a much greater achievement if someone from a small country wins, but this is arguably the one competition where we are the underdog!  Either way best of luck to South Africa in hosting, though I’ve no doubts that one of my favorite countries on the planet is capable of pulling off a spectacular job.

Photo of the Day: San Marino

My favorite microstate, San Marino is 24 square miles (61 square km) but still has a standing army. Being perched atop a looming mountain probably helps sovereignty as well.

What to Do, What to Do…

Welcome sign my brother and sister made for me when I returned to US soil

Ten months ago I finished my round the world trip, and nine months ago I started graduate school in physics.  To the surprise of no one it turns out graduate school in physics is hard, in particular when it comes to having to pass your qualifier, so a lot of my creative impulses were kept at bay for awhile.  But then two weeks ago I passed my qualifier (YAY!), meaning I am now actually eligible for an advanced degree and feel like I have copious amounts of free time.  Which translates into not so much free time so much as not feeling guilty I’m not brushing up on equations of motion during the free time, but it’s an important distinction.

CWRU Physics: Crushing Souls since 1881

During this year three important things happened- I spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with this blog, I got a Macbook Pro with lots of built-in media editing capabilities, and I noticed that even when I’m supposed to be super-busy I’m still traveling!  Not as extensively of course, but I’ve quietly set my toe in 13 states and four countries while no one was looking (and Washington DC, I never know where to list that guy) and will likely set foot in my sixth continent before the year is out (hint).  So lots of content, which is encouraging because the “background noise” this blog gets is incredibly high considering how little I’ve been doing lately, and let’s not forget the literally thousands of pictures from all around the world that no one except me has ever seen.

So this is what I propose- during the next x days the blog will be restructured more to the liking of a general travel/geek blog instead of one focused on a specific trip.  As usual on blogs, I will write things relating to what I find interesting, and you will like it or surf elsewhere.  But to keep you guys interested I will be introducing a Photo of the Day feature so there will be something new every day, which I am proposing to do because I can set it up so it’s not that huge a hassle and I finally worked out how to make WordPress behave when it comes to my photos (not sure why a lot weren’t showing up for awhile but I think I’ve brought them all back! and they’re bigger now and you can click on them for the full photo!).  And we’ll see where we go from there.

As always, feedback is encouraged and appreciated.  Particularly if you have a suggestion on what sort of photos you want to see- my archives go back to include 30 countries on five continents and for now at least I’m having fun making them pretty and such for public consumption.  Cheers!

Video: Leopard-Hyena Fight

Also known as my “Discovery Channel moment!”

The following video was shot at Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa on nothing more than my trusty digital camera (which was flashing its “out of battery” message the whole time this was taken in case you’re wondering what the fuss is about in the audio).  The leopard had killed the baby zebra earlier in the day but it was much too big for him to drag up into a tree which made him vulnerable to hyenas and, well, watch the video to find out what happens!

Video: Lioness Roaring at Mala Mala

And ye of little faith thought I was done, didn’t you?  Ha!

So don’t ask why now, but believe it or not I have a rather nice set of videos I was taking the whole time I was traveling that I’m only getting around to uploading now.  Order doesn’t seem to matter in particular when the events we’re talking about took place a year ago, so to begin here’s a lioness roaring in Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa at dusk- she was apparently looking for her friends!

Turns out these things take a long time to upload, so we’ll see what’s next.  But my channel is here should anyone wish to peruse the full collection before the individual videos get posted here.

Summary of South Africa

After you finish a round the world trip, the most common question you get is “what was your favorite country?”  It goes without saying that this is a bit of an impossible question to ask- I like all the countries I’ve been to in some way or another, and how do you compare Laos to Austria anyway?- but that’s not the sort of answer people want, so I inevitably say South Africa.  This is probably part because it was the last one I visited and thus the most fresh in my mind, but mostly because it is just plain awesome.  There is no other place half as diverse, from rolling beaches to mountains, remote villages to modern cities, a huge variation on cultures… I could have spent a lot more time here, and if (when?) I go on another wander it would be hard to not place South Africa on the list again.

Highlights:

– Mala Mala is an awesome place, but even then it’s just plain impossible to not love going on safari.  Because lives that involve charging elephants and finding leopards lying in the road and lion cubs playing with their mom are just plain more interesting, even if you find yourself quoting The Lion King more than is acceptable in polite society. (“Step lively children!  The sooner we get to the  water hole, the sooner we can leave.”)

– Cape Town just might be the prettiest city in the world, and if not is certainly on the short list (I actually thought it was very similar to Auckland!).  And when you add in the nearby Cape Point and the Stellenbosch wine region, well!

– Moving along, the Garden Route isn’t heard much of out of South Africa as that’s more a place people in-country go on vacation, which is a pity as it’s a lovely stretch with little gems of towns on it where you can do things like ride an ostrich, explore caves, go whale watching, try surfing…

– I like the Wild Coast/ Transkei region a lot better though honestly, particularly Coffee Bay, due to the addition of the colorful X’osha culture tossed into the mix.  If I get back to South Africa I will definitely spend more time here!

– And finally, the spectacular Drakensberg region filled with amazing mountains and the sensible, down-to-earth ranchers you’d expect to find in such a place.  Honestly, it felt like a different breed of the Wild West to get out there!

– Also, it should be noted that on the whole Afrikaans gents are the most kind and chivalrous ones you will ever meet- funny because Dutch guys are often on the lower end of that scale!  What do you expect from such a proud and courteous people I suppose?  Lucky for me American Midwesterners are probably second on the list of guys knowing how to treat a lady scale, though, so hopefully I won’t have a hell of a commute in my future. *wink*

Lowlights:

– Johannesburg is a bit of a “meh” city to be honest- big and sprawling and not much unique about it, and not even a place I’d want to live because of the crime rate.  I don’t think I ever met anyone who wanted to live in Jo’burg now that I think about it, including other South Africans, and usually you’ll find someone defending their town’s honor!

– While on the topic, crime in South Africa is an obvious detriment- honestly if it wasn’t for this I’d consider living here (as opposed to how I’ve met countless South Africans who moved abroad who love their country but are happy to escape the crime), but anyplace more dangerous than the USA doesn’t appeal much to me in the long term.  The interesting thing about South Africa though is how this was also the only country I’d been to where I didn’t get a key to the hostel room and reception laughed a little when I asked for one as crime was so nonexistent in their Middle of Nowhere location (like rural America where people leave doors unlocked even while going on vacation).  So the take-home message is crime is constrained more to the urban areas in South Africa, though to be clear when it gets bad it gets really bad.

– To carry on, an awful lot of crime in South Africa ties into the desperate poverty in an otherwise modern and wealthy nation- frankly I’ve never seen such a big disparity of haves vs have-nots as in South Africa.  Put it this way, East Cleveland where I go to uni has the highest poverty rate in the country and your house is deemed “substandard” by the city if it only has one bathroom, in South Africa living in a shack with no electricity or water and being unable to send your children to secondary school doesn’t bat an eye.  So when people land in better conditions in prison (such as three square meals a day) you inevitably get tragic results.

– Moving away from sociological issues, I don’t think I was ever as terrified in my life as I was on the world’s tallest bungy jump.  Because I thought I was about to die.  So guess I’m not doing that again anytime soon.

– And finally, it probably would’ve been nice to travel around more towards the peak season in South Africa instead of winter because some places were certainly not as interesting because of a lack of people.  Buccaneer’s Backpackers in Chintsa, for example, is world-famous for its vibe and I certainly liked it but the vibe was missing due to there hardly being anyone there!  Not like I’m a fan of crowds and places being booked solid, but there’s definitely a compromise always to be had in such things.

Anyway, South Africa is a wonderful place and I will certainly be watching the World Cup this summer with excitement (that’s what the Cape Town stadium looked like a year prior to the start- hopefully it’s more done now!).  I have no doubt it will be a memorable one.