Mongolia

I arrived in Ulaanbaatar at 2 am after twenty hours of travel, and hopped into the van of my driver and guide to be assaulted by a barrage of questions and opinions concerning US politics—more specifically Trump. My attempts to seek a little peace by staring out the window and acting uninterested failed, so I was extremely happy to pull up to my hotel and get into my room. I slept a few hours and woke in time to watch the sunrise over the city.

I spent he next three days driving across an ancient lakebed into the heart of the Gobi. Three days of nothing. Short vegetation, less than four inches tall, in every direction. Every once in a while I could see the tip tops of mountains that were far beyond the horizon line.

The dunes of the Gobi, a thin strip of sand on the map that sits in the far Southern part of Mongolia, were a welcome site after so many days of barrenness and the constant soliloquy of my young guide about her various interactions between her and her friends, which was actually quite fascinating in retrospect. There seemed to be an element of, what I as an American, would consider meanness, in each story. Anyway, after a massive downpour, I hiked to the top on one of the tallest dunes to view the endless sea of sand and watch large eagles fly overhead.

Next, we headed back into the Steppe toward the city of Karakorum, the old capital from 1235 to 1260. Once an … Read More

Namibia, Botswana

I spent three weeks driving around and through the amazingly diverse landscapes of Namibia, with a brief foray into Botswana. Equipped with a solid 4×4 with dual gas tanks and a good supply of water, I was still was a little hesitant starting out, not knowing what terrain I would encounter along the trip. I began my journey by spending the night in the capitol city of Windhoek. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, check out Joe’s. It’s a huge restaurant, with several bars and shaded out door seating. You can order a sampler plate the consists of, I think, one of every animal.

From Windhoek I headed south toward Keetmanshoop to check out Giant’s Playground, and the Quiver Tree Forest. Neither was to disappoint. Giant’s Playground consists of massive stones in piles, some up to 80 feet tall, littered across miles and miles of desert. It would be easy to get lost in the meandering paths between these monoliths. You could spend as much time in the area as the amount of water you can carry would allow, and not see a single soul. The best time to walk through the Quiver tree forest is at sunrise or sunset, when the low angled light sets fire to these massive members of the Aloe species golden bark. It’s also a great time to watch the playful hyrax run about with their families.

Next it was on to the costal port town of Lüderitz. Home of some of the worlds best oysters, and kite surfing. It was a strange place, it … Read More

Land of the Thunder Dragon

I have never felt so foreign in a place than while standing in the Punakha Dzong during the Tshechu festival surrounded by hundreds of Bhutanese in their formal dress. Foreign, but not unwelcome. The colors, patterns, masks and smiles on faces aged one to one hundred—maybe older, hung from the walls of the square courtyard like vines. The tangle of laughter and awe coalesced under the cool shade of a massive Bodhi tree in the center. These wise looking people with strong hands and bright eyes were, in that moment, an ideal to this westerner who had never seen community like this.

The festival honors Guru Rimpoche, a yogi and saint credited with introducing Tantric Buddhism throughout the Himalayas. Monks preformed masked dances that enacted religious stories and local legends. I was particularly intrigued by one dance in which a white masked figure was surrounded by what looked like demons. Our guide explained that the person in the white mask was in hell, but was later able to leave because he had redeemed himself through proper deeds and thought. This idea appealed to me because it allowed for the individual to truly face himself or herself.

I think the most hearting aspect of the county for me, was the lack of fear in people—young and old. In the west we’re inundated with screen crawls of opinion, malice and stupidity that cumulate from eyes open to eyes shut. It fills us with distrust. I can see the biological appeal of this attitude, but many of the Bhutanese people we met didn’t … Read More

Nepal

Kathmandu is a beautiful disaster. Amid the color, pattern, texture, filth, ritual, pollution, hippie westerners living on the cheap, marketing, mangled infrastructure, smell, music, traffic, corruption and the holy, it was hard not to feel like I was in the most unenlightened place in the world–a poverty tourist with the objective of seeing every aspect of life splayed out onto elaborately decorated fascias where everything is hyper real accept the armature.

We were in Kathmandu a total of four days, and there was a strike each day. All roadways in the city were shut down to motorized vehicles, accept for those carrying tourists. We were told that the strikes were happening because one of Nepal’s political parties was demanding that four of their members not be tried in a case where they were accused of killing a journalist. Things like this can make you feel a little uncomfortable when you’re in a foreign land, but it actually ended up being quite convenient as there was no traffic to contend with.

One of our first stops was Pashupatinath Temple, situated along the Bagmati River. Taking photos while walking through the ashes of the dead was one of the truly bizarre experiences I’ve had in my life. The temple is where local Nepalese cremate their loved ones. I felt like a voyeur, but my feeling of shame was overcome by my curiosity and my compulsion to keep clicking. If you’re looking for a cover of NG type shot, the painted Sadhu or “holy men” charge only a few rupees to take their … Read More

Berlin

I was sitting in the Berlin Documentation Center, watching footage of people charge through barbed wire to escape from East Germany at the time the wall was being erected, thinking about the desperation and oppression that would cause a human to ignore their own safety and potential loss of life. All I have experienced moving to different countries, is a seemingly endless bureaucratic nonsense, manifested in mounds of paperwork and lengthy phone calls, and although I sometimes get the notion that running through barbed wire would be welcome as long as there is some relief in the end, I continue filling out the paperwork and making the calls. Maybe I would be willing to take more risk if I could see an actual enemy. Instead I have to deal with people just like me—probably similar upbringing, fairly educated and with a moderate income. It just begs the question, why would I do this to myself? It was probably the same then in East Berlin. I read reports, that were part of the exhibition, of several cases of border guards deserting because the did not want to shoot people escaping.

It seemed like every surface of todays Berlin is covered in graffiti. I only spent six days there, so I don’t know if this the expression of 28 years of repression, but I do know that I liked seeing a city being treated like a canvas. The impetus for creativity was everywhere, and it seemed that creativity belonged to my generation—so much momentum without borders, allowing for utter failures, complete success … Read More