top of the world, ma

A year in the planning, I finally committed to hiking the highest peak in Africa.  It turned out to be far and away the most difficult challenge I’ve ever set myself. After a week of awesome, if exhausting, hiking, the sixteen hour night-into-day to the summit was overwhelming: I saw people with altitude sickness being led down on stretchers, bleeding, hikers turning back due to a crazy windstorm at the final brutal staging post plus, endured a hail storm, a busted iPhone, fire ants, a glorious full moon and many more times that I would care to admit questioning the limits of my physical and mental endurance.  And yet sixteen hours after we first set out, I was back in my tent. Wet, cold, annihilated and utterly elated.

If you’re curious about the poster I’m holding up, Frank is/was a friend of mine. You can discover a bit more about his integral part in my journey HERE.

 

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brough of birsay, fields of gold

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the most dangerous street in stromness

      

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just published: an evolutionary journey

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Is it me or are we a culture obsessed with our own personal evolution? My local bookstore is bursting with floor-to-ceiling shelves devoted to inner growth and spiritual fulfillment; a whole cadre of television shows barrages me daily with the tantalizing promise of ‘breaking through’ and attaining the next, stronger, higher level of my potential. And don’t even get me started on the Internet and the flurry of suspect emails that continually flood my inbox.

I blame Charles Darwin.

READ MORE (pdf download).

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the inca trail

IMG_3738When I hiked the 100-plus mile Brecon Beacons trail across the hills of Wales a few years ago, I considered it a major achievement. However, it didn’t prepare me one whit for the Peruvian Andes. Distances covered at or close to sea level are almost insignificant when compared to hiking at high altitude. And the Inca Trail is nothing but high-in-the-sky altitude. The elevation begins at 8,500 feet and climbs to just shy of 14,000 feet. That’s 8.5 oxygen-deprived miles up. Despite having spent three days acclimatizing in a rather posh Cusco hotel, I quickly discovered that you don’t so much hike the Inca Trail as survive it. Come along for the ride – it will leave you equally breathless.

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just published: mayan journey

AsiaSpa - Mayan JoureyIf last December’s prevailing wisdom had held true you wouldn’t be reading this. The storied Mayan calendar was famously closing in on the winter solstice and the end of its 144,000-day cycle. Interpreters of the calendar – and a host of New Age conspiracy theorists – predicted the date would coincide with a global cataclysm. Good thing nobody held their breath, because the Maya believed in the cyclical nature of things. The end of the calendar didn’t presage the end of the world; it marked a new beginning.  Call it a transition or period of renewal, but the Maya believed in the necessity of an epochal timeout before moving forward.  Spanish conquistadors might have brought about that break sooner than expected – subjugating the people by the end of the 17th century – yet descendants of the Maya continue to form sizable populations throughout Mexico’s Yucutan peninsula. Plus, many of their cities and ceremonial sites still remain. The wisdom of these ancient Americans hasn’t been lost. It’s laying patiently in wait for a Mayan journey of rediscovery. READ MORE.

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mercado san juan

slieve gullion

slieve gullionI’ve hiked and driven these quiet lanes so many times over the years that I sometimes take it for granted how much this part of Northern Ireland is soaked in history and mythology. Slieve Gullion – literally, mountain of the steep slope in Irish – is the eroded remains of a Paleocene volcano. It lies at the heart of the Ring of Gullion, which is itself a topographical curiosity only recently understood: an ancient ring dyke. (With the collapse of an active volcano’s caldera, a concentric ring of fault lines radiate outwards. Magma is extruded through these fractures to create mountains which are a geologically helter-skelter composite at their surface. Here the mix is molten granite with igneous rock from the Silurian period some 400 million years ago.) It’s the highest point in County Armagh, and on that rare clear day offers views as far away as Dublin Bay and Wicklow. At the top of the mountain are two cairns on either side of a small lake. The southern one is the highest surviving passage grave in Ireland – radiocarbon dating suggests it was built circa 3000 BC – and its entrance is aligned to the setting sun of the winter solstice. According to legend, however, Slieve Gullion is named after Culann, the metalsmith. And it is here that the legendary warrior Sétanta spent his childhood and received the name Cúchulainn. Culann invited Conchobhar mac Neasa, King of Ulster, to a feast at his house on the slopes of Slieve Gullion. On his way, Conchobhar stopped at the hurling field and was so impressed by Sétanta’s playing that he asked him to later join him at the feast. Conchobhar went ahead, but he forgot about Sétanta, and Culann let loose his ferocious hound to guard the house. When Sétanta arrived the hound attacked him, but he killed it by driving a hurling ball down its throat with his hurley. Culann was devastated by the loss, so Sétanta promised to rear him a replacement, and until it was old enough to do the job, he would guard Culann’s house. Henceforth he was known as Cúchulainn, or Culann’s Hound. But that’s just the beginning for young Cúchulainn, who will later single-handedly defend Ulster against the invading Connacht armies of Queen Medh at the nearby Gap of the North and take his place as Irish literature’s greatest mythic hero. All in a day’s hike, as they say.

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poet’s glen, creggan church

poets glen creggan churchUnassuming at first glance, Creggan Parish Churchyard is one of the more important and historic properties in Northern Ireland. The church was likely founded as far back as 1450 by the O’Neills, who built a castle at Glassdrummond, near the Irish Sea. While all traces of the pre-Reformation church have disappeared, it’s thought that the O’Neill family vault was situated underneath the original church. (Remains of a subterranean doorway were recently found during repairs to the existing modern structure.) The adjoining graveyard is also the burial-place of three eighteenth century Gaelic poets, who give this picturesque area of trails and sculpted gardens its evocative name: Art Mac Cooey, Pádraig Mac Aliondain and Séamus Mór Mac Murphy – poet, outlaw, and self-described handsomest man in Ireland.

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tasting reds

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tasting whites

tasting whites

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spoils of war

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romain, the oyster whisperer of thau

romain

 

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the french continuum

louvre panoramaFrom The French Laundry to France: I’m digging the continuum this week.

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big gay road trip

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