** As published on Africa Geographic's blog **
“Be sure to choose your 4x4 carefully; you have no idea of what you’re getting yourself into.” That was the welcome we received from our guide as we arrived in Mekele, Ethiopia for our short 4-day – yet physically and mentally demanding – trip into what we will forever call “The Most Inhospitable Place on Earth.”
The Afar Depression is located in the Afar Region of northern Ethiopia. It is a geological depression that resulted from the presence of 3 tectonic plates, which – against the odds – appear around a lake, making it 1 of only 2 places on Earth that a mid-ocean ridge can be studied on land. The region is home to both one of the hottest (+50°C) and lowest (-130 m) places on the planet, some 1,000+ square km of salt deserts, extraterrestrial sulfur fields, active volcanoes, and Lucy, the famous 3.2 million year-old hominin. The northern portion of the Afar Depression is commonly referred to as the Danakil Depression and was our intended destination.
wednesday, july 29, 2009
In my last few days now in the UK. Here is a picture of the family who has been hosting me; literally could not have asked for a better family! These people are the best in Berwick hands down.
saturday, july 25 (- sunday, july 26), 2009
Ooooook, I am going to try to keep this short. We weren't too busy at the hostel so took a day trip to Edinburgh. I stood in like for about 30 minutes to get a ticket (but I had Yes Man so it was all ok, haha; by the way, a classic case of movie remake is horrible compared to the book) and went to the Edinburgh Castle first thing when I got there. Joined a guided tour of the castle (for free!) and then wandered around by myself. A few blocks, if that, from the castle there is a whiskey tour. I felt as if I owed it to Whiskey to go, so I went. They put me in this barrel that spun around and I went on a virtual your of how whiskey was made. It was horrible. But then I got off and got put in a room and sat in front of a table with 4 bottles and a tasting glass on it. Each bottle was flavored as a type of Scottish Whiskey and some lady gave a history lesson on how each type is made. Then we chose which type we wanted and were led into a new room......whether or not you like whiskey, 3,500 bottles of it is impressing. 3.500 bottles of anything is impressing. So that was pretty cool. After the whiskey thing, I walked down the Royal Mile to Arthur's Seat. Let me rephrase. I walked down the Royal Mile past a few retaurants without eating anything in a few hours and got to the END of it where Arthur's Seat was then I walked back up the Royal Mile to get some food and then I walked back down the Royal Mile to climb Arthur's Seat. And being the fast walker I am, with loads of people on the street that was an adventure by itself. Anyway, I get to the base of the hill/mountain thing and there is The Gathering: the second largest festival in Edinburgh each year. Great. I have to go to this. I cannot afford the entry fee, so I wait until there is a group and "slip in" with them. Fantastic. The Gathering is literally thousands of Scots who come together to cook food, sell stuff, party, and play the bagpipes; it was pretty fun. When that's getting over I head across the street and start making my way up Arthur's Seat. Twenty minutes later I am still making my way. A bit later, yep, still making my way. I get to the top and eat my lunch (Subway, haha) and pick up where I left off in Yes Man until I am interrupted by some stalker man trying to pick up a Polish girl. I "read" my book while I listen. I'm feeling in the spy mood here. This guy is creepy if I have ever seen it, a slow talker from Florida. He spits his "game" for about twenty minutes then asks to help the girl down the Seat. She agrees. So, I pack my things and follow them down convinced he is going to pull a Taken on this girl. I literally follow them watching this poor guy try and try again until she finally phones her friend and they split ways. I'm almost positive I would have prevented an abducting if he had tried......
It is 7 in the morning as I write this. I HATE body clocks... I leave the stalker and head to Calton Hill, where I've decided it would be nice to watch the sunset before I hop on the 10p train. [2.5 hrs later] Angela texts me: "Are you on the train now." No! I am smart. I looked up all of the train times and the last one is at 10p, therefore I've maximized my time in Edinburgh. You funny local you. "No, I am at Calton Hill watching the sunset." "Sunset" by the way. The sunset happens at like 10 at night in Scotland. My phone stars ringing "Patrick, you missed the train." "No, Angela, I looked it up online, I'm good to go." "Oookkk....see you tomorrow, hahaha."
She was right.
I am now pleading with the train line employees to send a train to Berwick, like that will work. It's light outside still, it's like 9p. Things are supposed to work and be open when it's light outside! Nothing, nothing is going near Berwick. Why!? Oh yeah, where is Berwick-upon-Tweed? I forget. Oh yeah. The middle...of...nowhere. Don't get me wrong, this place is awesome, but it's literally all by itself. I am informed that there may be a bus heading there, so I get directions and sprint to the bus station. So by any other terms I jogged. I get to the door, catch my breath, and read the sign: "Closed." That's all, no "go here or there or opening time." "Closed." But it was supposed to be open. This is fantastic! And in the sprinting I apparently asked for the bright sun to go away and it is now very dark, just like that. So I ask around and get directions to the other door around the block and head over. I get there and it is packed with people. There is one person working behind a table and all of the tills are closed. It's about 9:30p now. He informs me that there is one bus to Berwick at 10p. YES! He then informs me that it is full and there is already a waiting list. Turns out the "bus to Berwick" is actually to London so there is about a 2% chance I get on this bus. Nonetheless, I put my name on the list and wait. The guy in front of me sees FIJI on my shirt and asks "oh, have you been?!" all excited and what not. I am slightly annoyed at this point but politely reply "no, it is my fraternity at school." After I explain the beauty of Greek life, he lets me know he is from FIJI. My annoyance takes over mentally: "well screw you, buddy. I am from concrete and high rises and air pollution! I hope sea life dies and washes upon your shores down there in paradise!" I reply "oh, that's pleasant. I bet it's nice" and he decides it would be nice to tell me everything that makes FIJI absolutely fantastic. Time passes...there are open seats on the bus! I thought I was first in line but there were two buses and the people in front were for either bus. Two people in front of me inform the driver they are going to London, pay, and get on. My turn. Sweet. "Berwick, I am going to Berwick (but I say it as "barr-ick" to impress the driver)." "Sorry mate, I don't stop there." Perhaps he forgot where he is supposed to go. "No, no you do" pulling out my train map and pointing at the train line passing through Barr-ick. "No, mate...I DON'T" he said pulling out his map that had 'no stops tonight, straight to London' scribbled on it. Amazing! The one time anyone needs to get to Berwick they are doing nonstop service to London.
I leave the bus station and walk around for a bit. It's nearing 11p and I start thinking it would be a good time to find a hostel. I go to a handful with no luck and find one that is honest with me. With The Gathering in town, I am not going to find a hostel or hotel tonight. Everything has been booked for ages. It's only Scotland's second largest festival, no big deal, right!? I am handed a hostel map and proceed to call every-single-hostel on the map. I get some help. Hostels were calling hostels. Hostels calling hotels. Those hotels calling hotels and calling back with no luck. Booked. Booked. Booked. "Looks like you're on your own tonight, mate" laughs the hostel guy. Why are you laughing!? This is not funny. And then, lightbulb! I'll just take a cab back! ...150 pounds and a hearty laugh later (by the cab driver...) I decide "no thanks, I'll be homeless tonight."
And so I was. It's well past 11p when we get done calling every place. I've been in Edinburgh over 12 hrs now and am kind of tired, so I sit next to a homeless man named Dave and talk to him a bit. I learn "his story" and what not. We go to dinner at McDonald's together. Good times. I leave him for a bit and start walking around and suddenly I see a sign, glowing in the distance. "3 for the price of 2" pints. Brilliant! So I stop in to get some "sleep aid" considering I'd be on concrete tonight. A few hours pass by, blah blah blah, I am tired of typing now. I go meet Dave again but he tells me his name is Mark now. I'm a bit confused and head back to the pub, because I know what is going on there, unlike with my new friend Mave. Back inside, I meet some people in the pub. I explained my situation to them and they tell me to follow them to a hostel. This is good news. I start to follow them into a back alley with little light...I am positive I am fixing to be mugged, but whatever, they could have my 4 pounds and my BuzzCard and the $60 I probably have left on my debit card, haha. We keep walking and they point me to a dim light behind a big wall around the corner. I am definitely getting mugged. Whatever, I walk towards it, and it is a "hostel/apartment" thing (NOT listed on the trusty hostel map)! And horrible business location, mind you. Nonetheless, I sprint upstairs and they have one room and I take it, for the low price of like 30 pounds...
So 100 something pounds later I wake up, get my Camelback of things, and head towards the train station to return to Berwick. This story is a bit short but I had had the best and worst weekend of my life...LOTS of interesting people.
monday, july 20, 2009
I took the bus to Alnwick for the day, about an hour bus ride. Since there was only one family at the hostel Sunday night, I was done by 10a in the morning. The rest of the week every room is full except one, so I decided it would be a good time not only to do laundry but to squeeze in a day trip. Alnwick is about 30 miles south-southeast of Berwick (pronounced "Bare-rick" by the way). The castle was built in 1000 and was bought by the Duke of Northumberland around 1300, to that family it still belongs. It was the castle that they played quidditch in front of during the first Harry Potter movie and they have a timeline that ends in Barack Obama being elected the first black president of the states; how that incorporates into the castle I am not too sure, but everyone over here sure does love him...
friday, july 17 - sunday, july 19, 2009
Berwick-upon-Tweed and Holy Island, England
Kaitlyn was in town for the weekend. In Oxford, a lot of small groups went off to many different places, and some just stayed in Oxford to take a break from the constant travel. She hopped on a train and stayed here at Berwick Backpackers (though we did put her to work in the mornings making beds and helping us out!). But she was a good sport and did so willingly. One hundred per cent of the day Friday and most of the day Saturday, on and off, it rained. Angela (the owner of the hostel) said they had not seen a rain like that in a very long time, which I thought was surprising being northern England and what not, but she said it is normally never non-stop for over 24 hours, but normally just daytime showers. So on Friday, the hostel filled up with bikers and campers who had no place to go and everyone, including us, just stayed in for the night, watching movies and drinking hot tea.
We got up Saturday, did the morning room cleaning, and Angela gave us a lift to Holy Island, which is actually what Kaitlyn is studying in one of her classes, which was kind of cool. It made a nice topic for her weekly Medieval paper. There we saw Lindisfarne Castle and, well, that was about it. There was a priory as well. I feel sure the historian will write all about it, haha...she bought like 15 guide books after all. To get to Holy Island, you have to go between certain hours around...4 to 9a or between...5 to 8p-ish. Outside of those hours, the tide is in and the road is completely underwater. So, it's only an "island" half of the time! Even though there are warning signs everywhere, during the tourist months we were told that there is always a family who thinks they can make it before the tide comes in and the car gets stuck. This happens about once a week or two, and then they have to air lift it out of the water. BUT, if you get stuck you do get a free postcard (no joke...) as a joke I suppose.
This morning Angela's husband, Ian, cooked a big breakfast of sausage, eggs, toast, and some Irish meat (I think lamb intestine?). Then we hopped on a bike and cycled around town and to/through some beach area and then got back to the center square right as it started to sprinkle. It was a pretty fun weekend I would say. For now, I just took a break from my book and checking people in to grab some food and write this. I better get back to work.
thursday, july 16, 2009
Woke up today and checked some people out and cleaned some rooms. Then I hopped on the bike and did about a 3 hour ride around Berwick. That's literally all I did today. Last night, however, was fantastic. The lady who owns the hostel had her parents in town the past few days and it has been nice getting to know not only her family but her very Irish parents. It was pretty difficult to understand them. I felt like that dumb American who had to say "come again" on just about everything, but I don't think they could really understand me either. The family here is fantastic. Everything is going quite well.
tuesday, july 14, 2009
I had a few free hours today so I walked around town and took a few pics until my battery died (it was starting to rain anyway). The tripod paid off...you cannot make these type of edits with a single shot; you need 4-6 shots and they all need to be the exact same thing. Cameras cannot capture what you can do with a computer, but provide a good starting ground. So, I've been on the computer the past...8 or 9 hours working on these. I think they look pretty good, but these small versions are not nearly as good as the high res because you cannot see the detail. I am going to hit the rest of Berwick tomorrow and the castles this weekend. Panoramics are in the process, should be up soon. I am working on getting a better panormamic program.
monday, july 13, 2009
I'm in Berwick now...got here about 5:30p yesterday. This hostel/house is AMAZING. It is by far the nicest place I have stayed in while abroad and not in some mainstream hotel, and it beats a lot of those. There are two parts: the "hostel" which is still really nice if you look at the website and then across the courtyard is an actual house, where I live. I am in an attic that has been converted to a sweet room. I am definitely having one of these in my house. It does take my 3 flights of stairs to get here but it's well worth it. I have a bathroom which I share with the families son, Conor, who is a pretty cool guy. He is finishing up school here soon and then traveling the world for a bit. I haven't had a chance to take pictures around the town since it was a bit rainy all during the day, but hopefully it will clear up one of these days. I am going to head to the islands this weekend to check out all of the castles, etc. This place is literally the coast of the North Sea...a huge war town back in the day. So yeah, for picturs all I have now is a pano of my room. I did buy a tripod today and I am going to try to be able to make some HDR pictures on photoshop if the weather clears up. More to come.
sunday, july 12, 2009
I AM ON A TRAIN TO NEWCASTLE AND HAVE FREE WIFI. I have been to a lot of places in Europe and seen some cool things, but you literally can have Internet wherever you want in England. For free. I am making a pitstop in Newcastle to do the brewery tour and then will jump on a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed. I got up pretty early this morning and walked around Bath (train was at 9:13a).
saturday, july 11, 2009
Okay, so I ended up in Bath, after a bomb threat (we think) at Plymouth and a short layover/visit at Bristol (a great town). Unfortunately it rained most of the day, and because I only packed a small bag, I am without a rainjacket or umbrella. Whoops. I think this is going to be my pitstop between Newcastle and then Berwick upon Tweed, where I'll work at the hostel. I have been e-mailing Angela, the owner, and she seems much more than very friendly.
I got into Bath around, I don't know, perhaps noontime. I walked around for about 90 minutes trying to find a place to stay. Some of the hotels wanted 95 quid for the night and quite frankly I cannot afford that. I did get lucky and found a place at the YMCA for only 20. It is me, some local British guy, a girl from Japan, and an empty bed as of now. I went to Abbey Church and then to, of course, the Roman Baths. Bath is quite a picturesque town. If you have been reading and viewing the photographs thus far, you must know I am quite a fan of panoramics. I added three for both Newquay and Bath. And for the people reading not from the majestic town of Albany, I took the picture of Westgate Street because I live on Westgate Drive down back home. I actually just send Kate an e-mail saying you cannot get too far from home. I was on the train and the man across from me was reading Cloud Atlas (one of her favorite books). It is funny no matter where you go you find things that remind you of where you're from.
So now I am now at a pub in Bath about 90 seconds from the YMCA. It has free WiFi, and considering the YMCA's is 50p for 15 minutes, this seems like a pretty good deal. A social environment and Internet...2 of my favorite things together in one place, this is the place for me. I'm at a 4 person table and have had all kinds of conversation tonight, anywhere from breaking bad news to close friends and the English tax and immigration laws, and many more. People have come and gone but I've been here for a few hours now taking advantage of the free WiFi. Not quite sure what tomorrow will bring, but the alarm is set for 8:15a. Perhaps Newcastle, perhaps Hadrian's wall. Again time will only tell.
friday, july 10, 2009
I made a map in Photoshop with stars of where I have been, so perhaps that will help you identify where I am currently when I write a something new. It'll now be the first picture in each city, however, there may be only 2-3 cities left.
Where to begin? For those who are following where I think I am going each day, plans change. Well, no, I suppose that's why I always say I think I may go to a certain city. I was on the train to Penzance, which is about a 5 hour ride from Oxford. It is literally the most south west you can be in England. It's got some great beaches on the mainland and 5 unhinabited islands about 30 miles from the shore. My plan was to go and hike a few of the islands and set camp for the night. Well...I took the train from Oxford to Reading and then got onto the train to Penzance and man, was it literally slammed. There was standing room only...standing room only on a 5 hour journey. Great. I found myself parked with 3 British girls and in the midst of about 23, I counted, British men, all from Woodford. I say men because these guys are about 30 years old. For the record they thought I was 26 and British so that's a win for me there. Nonetheless, they were taking a weekend trip to Newquay for their mate's bachelor party. We all started chatting and I made a few quick friends. Before I knew it, I was changing trains with them and on the way to Newquay. No place to stay, no plans, no knowledge of the area, but lads who apparently know what's going on. We get there and I grab a drink at their hostel and shoot a game of pool. I throw my stuff in their room, get offered a room (half price, but it was the room of one of their friends...great friends they must be...), and end up going out with them that night. CRAZY night. Very fun. I get woken up at 7a to go surfing on the beach, and the guy's whose bed I was in was sleeping on the floor (and to think he paid for it), haha. We hit the beach for a bit and now I am going to grab a train for, well, I am not too sure, but I think I want to end up around Bath. Perhaps more north and check out Manchester?
thursday, july 2 - sunday, july 5, 2009
Last summer I was able to hit all of the "touristy" spots in London, like Big Ben, etc. This time it was a bit different I enjoyed myself much more than last summer. Kaitlyn is the lawyer to be so we went to Old Bailey which is called Central Criminal Courts to watch a trial. The trials are open to the public during the day. Taking this from her blog because I am lazy..."It was entirely un-touristy but that’s probably because it’s just too boring for most tourists to care to see…regardless, I thought the entertainment abounded. We sat in bleacher like wooden seats above the courtroom, situated to protect the anonymity of the witnesses but with a full view of the judge, attorneys, and defendant. The attorneys, who have to wear sweeping black robes and powdered white wigs, were a little archaic. The case we saw was outrageous to say the least and hearing the old men, in their full get-ups, reading some of the defendant's statements was beyond hilarious, especially with the British accents." I am not too confident about writing what the trial was about, but I do recall it in full recollection and will tell back in the states. It was quite entertaining. When we did get out, we saw tens of camera men waiting for another trial to adjourn. Turns out an aquitted defendant from a trial 7 years prior to this year was tried and convicted. It was all over the papers. We were there when the victim's family came out and watched them give statements and be interviewed. That's kind of cool I suppose.
Again copying this..."Friday we took advantage of the theater-deprived youth of London, who have apparently caused the government to implement free theater tickets to anyone under 26." London: 0, Me: 3ish. I'm loving the free entertainment here. We saw the live play Observe the Sons of Ulster in a pretty tiny theatre right out of central London. It was good, had a completely unforshadowed twist, and I felt a bit "cultured" as we left.
Saturday & Sunday were pretty busy days. Among the highlights were the National Gallery, the Museum of London and the British Library. The British Library almost has the largest collection, second to our Library of Congress. There we were able to see two original Gutenberg bibles, the original Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, Beowulf, the Canterbury Tales, the Magna Carta, da Vinci's notebooks, Beethoven's manuscripts (along with numerous other composers), et cetera. It was pretty cool. The books in that room have changed the world as we currently know it. da Vinci's notebook was opened to the pages where he was studying friction and pulleys, which I thought was fantastic. After the British Museum we went to the Roxy Bar and Screen, a little local gem hidden off a random Underground stop. It's some old bar or something. They've hung red velvet like drapery all along the walls (like a movie theater) and have candles and dimly lit lamps alongside it. In the front there is a huge screen and we watched the Wimbledon finals (poor Roddick) on their projection screen. It was awesome. For 20-25 pounds a year, you can become a member to this place and view the showings (almsot everyday) whenever you want for free. And they show the same stuff-ish that is in theaters. I've already searched for a backdoor cinema in Atlanta...
thursday, july 2, 2009
After I woke up drenched in sweat, I tried to take a shower, but not packing any toiletries or a towel, it was more of a "rinse off." Considering I literally have no money, I attempted to hike the 6 mile walk out to Greenwich, but the my sandal was tearing into my foot, so I bought some wrap and hopped on the train instead. I got like halfway so it kind of counts. My goal for Thursday was to head to each corner of London and hike the biggest hill possible to see which had the best view. I figured it would be a nice place to hang out at night and Greenwich has the Royal Observatory so I thought it would be a good place to start. Greenwich is a pretty small town south of central London, a small town where the "tourist sites" are completely free. Score. I toured some royal homes, the National Maritime Museum, the Prime Meridian, the Royal Observatory, an astronomy collection, and a few more things. Pretty good time for a Tech nerd.
After the Royal Observatory, I headed towards north of central London to Primrose Hill. Definitely the best view. That took the majority out of the rest of the day and then I went to the Underground Station (King's Crossing which is where Platform 9 3/4 is...) accross from the place I were staying to see the Oxford people come in. I was quite happy to be able to see the guys and more so Kaitlyn. We went back and put everyone's stuff away. I grabbed my first meal of the day (the whole no money thing), walked around, and then crashed out of pure exhaustion.
tuesday, june 30 - wednesday, july 1, 2009
Okay, finally. I headed to the airport and flew out of Atlanta on the 6:40a flight. That was a 59 minute flight to Cincinnati where I had a sweet TWELVE hour layover. Not too keen on sleeping in airports, so I walked around and watched a few Wimbledon matches. Airports are busy, loud, and expensive and aren't the best for a low budget trip and an eager traveler. Nonetheless, I did get to fly first class into London on the 7:55p flight that evening; it was awesome. Three course meal, drinks, personal tv, 180 degree chairs, footrests...the works. I got into London Gatwick around 9a local time and breezed through customs. I hoped on the first train I saw and it eventually took me, ironically, to Salisbury. So, around lunch time I am walking around in this small town and grab a burger and a beer and watch Federer play with a few locals. After lunch I jump on the bus and head to Stonehenge. A bit smaller than I expected but still impressive nonetheless. I wandered around Salisbury and the country side for a few more hours and then around 6 or 7p I jumped on the train for Waterloo. I finally get to the hostel where I am staying. It's about 80 degrees and the room for 4 is about as big as my cubby at FIJI. After 60 hours and only 3 hours of sleep, I am happy to be able to take off my 50 or so pound bag and take a breather for the night. The sleep was okay but in the morning I cancelled my stay and got a room at the hostel with all of the other people for the remainder of the weekend.