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Tanawha

Circumstances not of my own making brought me from one spectacular, mountainous state to another. Settling into North Carolina's Piedmont, the maps pointed me westward to the Appalachians, unique on Earth. Nowhere have I seen it better described than here, by Sheila Turnage1.

How did the Appalachians come to be here? The Cherokee, who have lived here for thousands of years, say that one day long ago, the Great Buzzard swooped low over the new earth. His wings brushed the impressionable earth, creating the mountain ranges that rise and fall, and then fade into sky. Geologists envision a wilder scenario.
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The '68 Jeep

In my 49 years on earth, I've learned only one thing with total certainty: it's that any bad day can be cured by a drive into wild spaces in a classic Jeep. This fact has accompanied me through life. Pretty sure my dad taught it to me. If so, he was right.

This is the story of my Jeep. Not any Jeep, mind you: it joined the family before I did. I laugh when I see ads for "vintage" Jeep Wranglers that date back to the early 2000s. Mine was a 1968, older than me. Before the Wrangler was the AMC and before that was the Kaiser, only one short generation removed from the old Willys that had served hard time in World War II. And it was still largely unchanged in design. The Kaiser was still so simple you could airdrop it to troops in a palletized container and have them assemble it in the field. In the winter you froze, in the summer you cooked. If it rained, you stood a decent chance of getting wet. But it was a Jeep: worth it!

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Slumbering Giants: the End of Rail

Back when North Carolina was called the Rip Van Winkle state, asleep while industry raged on all sides, local industrialists shared a vision of prosperity that only rail builders could usher in. It was the late 1800s, just four decades after the cease of Civil War hostilities, and North Carolina was suffering. But before the century would end, a network of steel rail would connect North Carolina's textile mills and tobacco farms to the markets of Virginia and harbors on the Atlantic. And there they would stay for about a century before consolidation, truck traffic, and changing interstate markets would make some of them superfluous.

Rail lines are tough to make disappear, though. So if you know where to look, you can still find their bones slumbering under forests. And Lord they are beautiful. Continue reading "Slumbering Giants: the End of Rail"

The End of the Road

Nothing gets the pulse racing like escaping from the world we're living in now, and discovering the worlds that lived before us: it's a reminder that nothing lasts forever, not even this.

North Carolina's Haw and New Hope River valleys were formerly prone to horrific flooding. The hurricane of 1945 was one of just many hurricanes that laid siege to what was already a poor valley, putting it under water. The US Army Corps of Engineers came up with a plan to flood it permanently, offering a mechanism of flood control and providing hydropower for electrification of the region. When it was done, Lake B Everett Jordan had become a permanent fixture on the Piedmont landscape. Continue reading "The End of the Road"

The Bush Pilot

The only thing better than a pilot's license is surely a friend with a pilot's license. And in 2016, such a friend with a big heart, and an empty seat in his Cessna, offered to take me on a ride I'll never forget.

Matt was flying Cessnas for a small company in Uganda. "Take me along some day if you've got space for me," I joked one day. But it was half-hearted and a joke. So imagine when one day he called me up and offered me a ride in exchange for some help loading up a guy who had broken his leg in the rural bush of northern Uganda. I could scarcely meet him at the aerodrome fast enough. Continue reading "The Bush Pilot"

The bus to Kazancis

The more time I spend in Ethiopia, the more I like it, and the more it draws me in. Even after a decade in sub-Saharan Africa, this is something new and different. And though Ethiopia outside the capital is truly a different world, Addis reminds me an awful lot of Managua, another place I called home for many years.

Maybe it's that familiarity that led me so effortlessly into adventure.

I had traveled across town for a meeting, and back out on the street found the local bank machine wouldn't accept my card; stupidly, I'd set out in the morning without drawing some cash at the hotel. And out on the street I had no access to wifi, so my phone was useless to call for a ride. I hailed a few cabs, all of whom roundly refused to carry me for the cash I had on hand. What to do? Continue reading "The bus to Kazancis"

Mynahs by Morne

Bulbul, Mauritius

We left Mauritius in December of 2010, thinking it was as far as we'd ever traveled, and that we were leaving a piece of paradise, never to return. So I was shocked to find myself there again only eight years later. It's as far as I remember, but when you reach a destination at the end of many, individual jumps, it seems farther. Continue reading "Mynahs by Morne"

The Sands of Hargeisa

Hargeisa, Somalia

It must have been around late 2014 after a full nine years in West Africa: I was deathly bored of the continuous struggle to invest in the governments of poor places while remaining infinitely wary for the fraud and misuse that comes with the pleasure of spending another people's money. I desperately wanted to leave the donor business. "Also," I told Ericka, " if I don't get out of this sector, some day I'm going to find myself on a plane to Somalia or something."

So the irony wasn't lost on me when I boarded a plane for Hargeisa just a few years later. Continue reading "The Sands of Hargeisa"

Addis Ababa

Addis

I'd been predisposed to hate Addis. I knew the hills outside of Addis were green and beautiful, and a friend who had worked there frequently told me Ethiopia itself was wonderously beautiful. "But not Addis," he added. Fair enough, few emerging market capitals are what you would call lovely. But a popular travel writer characterised the place as filthy and rutted and festering, and that's the image I braced myself for as I arrived.

Instead, Addis was pretty interesting. Continue reading "Addis Ababa"

Nairobi

I first visited Nairobi in 2007 with Ericka. Coming off a week-long safari, we needed to find someplace to spend the night before flying onward, and found a mid-range hotel on the edge of town closest to the airport, where we spent an awful, noisy night listening to the adjacent bus terminal and sweating on questionable sheets. Morning came soon enough, and we hoofed it out to Jomo Kenyatta airport and got on with our lives. No metropolitan center can compete with the magic of one's first visit to the Masai Mara or Samburu National Park, but Nairobi was a necessary evil to that trip, not a destination.

Two years later we passed through on the way to the Seychelles, and stayed with friends in an upscale, gated community burgeoning with diplomats and expat aid workers. The houses were lovely, with manicured green gardens sparkling under the tropical sun, and their shaded interiors whispered of hard woods and cool evenings. But the traffic we experienced getting across town to our friends' house! It was shocking.

I found myself in Kenya a third time ... and then again ... Continue reading "Nairobi"

Ssezibwa Falls

Ssezibwa Falls

You could find it halfway between Kampala (the capital and our home), and Jinja, the famed source of the Nile: Ssezibwa Falls, a lovely little waterfall and an easy day-trip out of town. So Christmas morning after the kids had opened presents, we bundled children and dog into the car and sauntered out of town to check it out.

Turning off the highway, we followed a dirt track through fields of sugar cane, down across an irrigation channel, and further down into a little forest, a grove of Eucalyptus and hardwoods, a glade I suppose. And we saw it. What a gorgeous waterfall. The water appeared out of nowhere, rounding a last-minute bend in the river. And then it dropped from about 100 feet, churned in a fast spinning pool, and poured forth in a stream that immediately divided to swallow both sides of a little island. The two streams rejoined a few dozen meters afterwards in a shady, little forested spot, and then disappeared out of sight as it headed down to Lake Victoria.

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The Jakarta Train

As you travel through life and across the Earth, some things stick with you, and some things are lost. I lived and worked in Boston for two years and can't remember a single street name. I studied at Cornell for four years and can't remember the names of buildings I visited every day. But I remember this instant vividly, and think about it frequently. It has become a part of me.

I'd traveled to Indonesia alone, and had landed only hours ago, toting nothing but a huge, wheeled trunk carrying my belongings, and a camper's backpack with the rest. I spoke good Bahasa Indonesia but was a fish out of water otherwise: disoriented, traveling for the first time ever, and in a country so non-Western as to be totally confusing in ways you'd never experience on your first excursion to a place like Spain. I'd gotten myself from the airport to the train station only to be told I couldn't travel with the trunk, which was too heavy and would block the aisle.1 They gave me the address of a freight forwarder, and suggested I take the Jakarta inner city rail across town to get there. OK ... Continue reading "The Jakarta Train"