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.

 

Share

scaredy cats

Mikumi-National-Park_jpgJust a couple of weeks before President Barack Obama lands in Africa for a week-long official visit, interesting stories about his historic visit to the continent are coming up every day. News about Obama’s cancellation of a two-hour safari to Tanzania’s southern wildlife park of Mikumi has so far, attracted the most attention. The Washington Post covered the story over the weekend, quoting a source in the White House as saying the President would require more resources to beef up his security in case he gets attacked by lions, cheetahs, or other wild animals. “The safari would have required the President’s special counterassault team to carry sniper rifles with high-caliber rounds that could neutralize cheetahs, lions, or other animals if they became a threat,” the document made available to the Washington Post said. The preparations even included sniper teams with high-powered rifles that would shadow the first family on a safari in Tanzania, ready to kill any animal that might become a threat. Misinformed perceptions of Africa aside, it begs the question: has the First Family’s safari fallen victim to the sequester, or are they just a bunch of scaredy cats? A comment on the story as it appeared in Kenya’s Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in East Africa, summed up the local response succinctly: “You should get a Maasai to deal with that. Bow and arrows or spears are enough to protect you, Mr. Obama. We do not use rifles in Africa.”

Share

just published: the truth about poop

File under strange but true: a Korean publisher contacted me earlier in the year through this website asking permission to use a few of my images for a book being published out of Seoul. It was to be part of a series, she explained, used to teach children basic English skills. I agreed, asking only for a copy of the book once it was published. The humorous results arrived in the mail this week: The Truth About Poop. Little did I expect last summer in Kenya that my snapshots of a hyena and its scat would one day find themselves a global – if underage – audience.

Share

just published: spa couture

You love designer duds, covet a closet full of fashionable shoes and handbags – why would you even think of staying anywhere other than a designer hotel?  That’s exactly the thinking among a handful of the world’s top fashion houses, including Armani, Versace, Bulgari, Missoni, and Moschino, who are boldly taking the idea of lifestyle chic where no hotel and spa has gone before. Haute holidays have arrived. Here’s our peek at the new chic: vacationcouture.

READ MORE (pdf download)

Share

safe and sound

The feather in the cap of this grand adventure? The painting which has sat in the house in Ireland for almost two years safely made the journey back with me wrapped in just a bit of brown paper and twine. It not only survived the transatlantic crossing as checked baggage in the hold of the plane but it emerged unscathed as well and is currently on view in my living room. I never would have imagined … Then again it’s really just par for the course –  this summer has been full of days and nights I heretofore never could have imagined.

Share

it’s about the journey


Not the destination. Cheers to Virgin Atlantic for making the long haul oh so civilized – even at 30,000 feet.

Share

culture shock: nairobi

Hello, culture shock! After a smog-filled ride through a maze of lawless traffic – and an unsettling check of the car’s undercarriage for explosives – I’m ensconced in the five-star Sankara tower high above the poverty and pedestrian mayhem below. It’s a bewildering juxtaposition, as though someone has tweaked the Photoshop settings to super high-contrast: prosperity and poverty are vividly cheek by jowl. To wit, Sankara’s architecturally impressive rooftop pool-by-day and lounge-by-night. Cantilevered out over the city center, it has a groovy glass bottom for the perfect fish-eyed view of the chaos heaving below.

Share

out of the bush

At the airstrip I am reluctantly coming to grips with the fact that the time to head home draws near. I’ve got a night in Nairobi and a weekend of housekeeping in Ireland before I head back to New York, yet still; the sudden chill in the air means summer’s grand adventure is rapidly approaching its denouement.

Share

ode to a giraffe

Giraffe, how do you still exist in the world?  Like some prehistoric throwback, it doesn’t seem possible that you’ve survived the millennia without falling prey to extinction. I take it as some kind of omen that on my last day in the bush I’m greeted by a parade of you, poking through the Acacia with that curious, quizzical look on your faces before galloping across the field en masse. I’m told you’ve got quite the kick, yet ever since Toys “R” Us marketed Geoffrey Giraffe as its cuddly, docile mascot, I’ve had to suppress the urge to squeeze you like a favored stuffed animal.

Share

stuck, or a brush with death

On safari you experience a near constant reminder of just how small your place in the biosphere really is. That’s part of the bargain, part of the rush. Mostly it comes in gasps of wonder and awe. Yet today’s run in with an unhappy elephant was a heart-pounding example that sometimes the reminder comes hand in hand with a dizzying fear. Watching this beautiful creature devour a thorny Acacia was mesmerizing until we were distracted by the howls of a jackal, whose cries signaled a lurking danger. It turned out to be a pair of male lions on the hunt, and seeing them cross our line of sight we decided to make pursuit.  What the driver failed to notice, however, was the big ditch separating us from them – until we went kerplunk. Thoroughly stuck, we sat there immobile, our rear wheel unable to gain any traction whatsoever.  As the driver gunned the engine, the axle emitted a high-pitched squeal which not only set my teeth on edge but also seemed to rattle the brain of an animal in mid-meal.  Add the howl of the jackal and the smell of the lions and we suddenly had a skittish and visibly unhappy pachyderm not twenty feet away.  With perfect timing a branch feel from the tree, thwacking it on the back. As if we were to blame it reeled on us like a bull, using its muscular trunk to toss branches left and right in a display of displeasure, if not downright aggression. It’s at this point that I became almost hyper-conscious of the animal’s large tusks – and my unfortunate positioning in the car, which puts me at the direct point of impact should we be charged. I flash back to the terrifying drive back from the condor nests in Patagonia last winter: a white-knuckle journey in which we narrowly escaped skidding into a ravine multiple times. My friend told me afterward that from the back seat she was wishing for death because she knew if we went over the edge she would never survive getting out of the gorge on her own. I’m wondering what we would do if this elephant charged the car? Where would we run? Outside are a pair of lions which would quickly pick up our scent. Plus, there’s not a  substantial tree in sight – and even if there were it’d be no match for a rampaging elephant.  It is so silent I can’t hear anything: I feel my heartbeat, however, and what I think is a low guttural rumbling coming from the elephant. If the driver fruitlessly guns the engine one more time, I think I might get hysterical, but he’s reaching for his walkie-talkie and radioing back to camp for reinforcements.  How anyone will find us is beyond me but at this point all we can do is wait – and watch. Time bends. The anticipation is agony. We are rescued, of course, by a pair of laughing Masai who, no doubt, will mercilessly rib and cajole our driver for weeks, if not years, to come. Almost incidentally they scare the elephant off with a machete. Trying to get some traction to the back wheels they attack a fallen log. The metallic ping as the machete hits the wood is enough to freak the elephant out: it whinnies and runs away as expeditiously as if we had pointed a shotgun at its head. I am pretty sure I exhale audibly, while simultaneously realizing that I am ravenous. We’ve spent all this time staring down death and managed to miss breakfast.

Share

breaking clouds

Share

loo with a view

In truth, Naboisho Camp is still ironing out a few freshman issues that all hotels experience. Yet there’s no denying that this campsite has been spectacularly designed.  Even the common loo has a fantastic view.

Share

at sunset the gazelle come out to dance

Share

scat fact of the day

Hyena poop is white.  The only scavenger in Africa that goes so far as to eat the bones of other animals, hyena build up an excess of calcium in their system which finds a way out through the back door, as it were. It is a most curious sight. Then again, the sound of the wolf-like hyena chomping on bone is something else you won’t soon forget.

Share

the great spider hunt

This afternoon I was excited and eager to finally get out into the bush for a proper walk. In the Mara you are technically not allowed to leave the vehicle, so naturally bush walking is frowned upon. Outside of the Mara all bets are off. As long as you have a Kenyan Wildlife Service Ranger with you – i.e. a man with a shotgun – you are free to roam as far as your good sense will take you. I went out with a ranger, a Masai warrior with a spear, a tracker, and another couple who were staying at the lodge. Rather early on we chanced upon some small holes in the ground that appeared perfectly drilled and lined with silk. This I discovered was the lair of the baboon spider, an African sub-family of the tarantula. It quite quickly became – let me add – a minor obsession. We went from hole to hole to hole attempting to lure Harpactirinae out of her secret spot in vain. It was impossible to walk more than a few feet without seeing another hole here, another hole there: all tempting, all abandoned. After close to a dozen false starts our tracker discovered an arachnid eager to indulge this odd quarry of reluctant spider hunters. A few blades of grass and a dollop of saliva were all it took to get her out. Apparently the nocturnal baboon spider lies in wait all day, guarding its sac of eggs which lie at the bottom. The promise of food, however – even in daylight – is too good for the hungry spider to pass up.

Share

Proudly powered by WordPress
Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.