Saturday, June 7, 2014

Hooked on Southeast Alaska

Humpback Whale
Alaskans have about as much pride as Montanans do in thinking that their state is the best place to live. I fully agree as I'm torn between each of them in choosing a place to live.  For next year Alaska will win out though.

Ice cave in the Mendenhall Glacier
I was just able to visit a new part of the state.  I've spent most of my Alaska time in Southcentral Alaska around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula and have ventured as far north as Fairbanks.  But last week was my first time to Southeast Alaska.  I had some time off between Denali trips and flew down to Juneau to see some friends.  I've always heard great things about Southeast Alaska and they were all right.

Hopefully I'll make it back there in July after my last Denali trip and I also just got hired as a Photography Guide in Juneau for next summer (after I finish Denali season).  This is probably the most my life has ever been planned out.  It also means that in 2015 I'm only going to have 8-9 weeks off work.  I don't know what I'm going to do with so little free time.
Mendenhall Glacier 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ben's Official Airline/Airport Survey Results

I'm completely skipping a blog post about Istanbul, Turkey.  I don't even have the photos uploaded from my camera yet--I simply don't have time.  I head to Alaska tomorrow to start packing for a Denali expedition that I'll be guiding for the rest of May.  

In the last three weeks I've been to four continents, wandered around six major cities, been the only white person standing in downtown Johannesburg, stood at a bus stop in Chicago trying to remember what city/state/country/continent I was in, blended in with 150 other nationalities in Dubai, shot photos of lions and leopards and elephants in South Africa, and wandered around, nearly lost, drinking freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in Istanbul.  It was an amazing trip, but I didn't get to spend enough time in any of the places I visited.

But I have conducted a very official survey of airports and airline service since, in those last three weeks, I've been on 11 flights, through 10 airports on 7 different airlines.  Here are the official results:

Best Food: Turkish Airlines
Worst Food: Air Canada or South African Airways

Best in Flight Service: Emirates
Worst in Flight Service: British Airways

Best Airport Service: Air Canada or Alaska Airlines
Worst Airport Service: Turkish Airlines (absolutely horrible)

Best Airport: Seattle, USA
Worst Airport: Heathrow, England (even worse than LAX)

Fastest Immigration: Heathrow, England
Slowest Immigration: Johannesburg, South Africa

Easiest Customs: UAE
Worst Customs: USA

Easiest Airport Check-in: Air Canada
Worst Airport CHeck-in: South African Airways

Easiest Security: Butte, MT
Worst Security: Chicago or Istanbul

Best Airport People Watching: Dubai (pissed off Arabs and Irish)
Most Boring Airport People Watching: Salt Lake City (no need to explain)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

World's Tallest Building in Dubai

Dubai Creek in an "older" section of Dubai
Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall
The last few days have been spent in Dubai.  Okay, the first day was mostly spent sleeping and hiding from the heat.  I didn’t get to my to my hotel until 3am after a 9-hour flight so I deserved some sleep.  I wandered a bit through an older part of town near my hotel and called it a day.  The next day I headed to the fantasy land of the Dubai Mall with the shark tank and fountains and giant waterfall—all at the base of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. 

I won’t say I was disappointed by the view from the observation deck on the 124th floor, but Dubai is even more dusty and brown from above as it is from the street (once you look past the shiny buildings and fancy cars and all that other useless stuff that too much money can get you.)  There were also 80 floors above me that might have offered a better view, but I was still more than 10 times higher than the tallest building in Montana.

Shadow of the Burj Khalifa

Dubai was my first experience in the Arab world and it was certainly a unique blend of cultures.  There are people from over 150 different cultures living there in a relatively small area.  It is also like Las Vegas with more money.  I could have done without the stop there, but I’m glad I did. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Penguins in Cape Town

African Penguins
I’m writing this as I fly over natural gas fires in Saudi Arabia.  They are a bright contrast to the darkness and dimly lit cities below.  They also represent another foreign world to me. 

I should be in Istanbul right now, but thanks to the lovely Turkish Airlines I’m 13 hours later than planned.  Bummer because it took away half a day of my short time in Istanbul.  But much to my amusement the angry Arabs and Irish on the flight provided excellent people watching with their yelling and ranting.

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Turkish Airlines did put us up in a fancy hotel for a few hours though.  But the time sitting around in the airport and transport to and from the hotel was more than double the time actually spent in the hotel.  I did get to see the bill (footed by Turkish Airlines) from my few hours in this hotel and it was a bit more than the cost of this flight.

Top of Table Mountain

I left Cape Town a few days ago with having completed my goal of playing tourist by hiking up Table Mountain and seeing the penguins.  With such a short time in some of these places on these trips I feel like the best way to see is unfortunately to be your typical tourist.  But Cape Town was great.  I would love to go back and send much more time there.  If you combined the skinny jeans and hipsters of Portland, OR and the money and beaches in San Diego and the breweries and good food and diversity of both you would get something akin to Cape Town, South Africa.

I'm finally posting this from Istanbul, where my luggage was finally delivered.  How do you delay a plane for 13 hours and not put a single piece of luggage on it?

Ostrich Foot

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Long Train to Cape Town

The last day of my safari consisted of a long drive back to Johannesburg with a few stops at some viewpoints.  I used the time to edit photos and try to catch up on some sleep. 

After a day and half of rest in Joburg I hopped on the train to Cape Town.  It was supposed to be a 26-hour ride through South Africa and I was excited to sleep and see some of the country.  Well, I did sleep a lot.  But the scenery didn’t offer much.  Most of it was similar to driving along I-80 through Utah and Nevada.  But there were a few baboons and funky looking antelope along the way.  

Mountains and vineyards started to appear just as the sun went down for the 2nd time on this trip.  The sun was only supposed to set once during this trip.  Yes, I’m writing this on hour 29 and I hope to be in Cape Town sometime within the next three hours.  Last night someone stole a long section of the electric cables (that power the electric train engine) above the rails ahead of us.  The train company was trying to get a diesel engine to come and tow us to the next section, but apparently the cables were replaced before that happened.  I’m not complaining about the delay at all.  It has given me time to finish photos and catch up on some sleep.  Expecting such delays, the train always has enough food on board for a second dinner for everyone.  I was telling the cab driver in Cape Town about it and he said that people steal cables every day along the rail lines. 

I kept my camera in its case on the train ride because there wasn’t much to photograph and it was just nice to sit and enjoy the view for a bit.

The African Bush

My tent for the week.
During the next few days in Cape Town I hope to see the views from atop Table Mountain and watch some penguins.

The last leopard of the trip.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kurger National Park: Part 2

White-backed Vultures
African Elephant
The days on this Safari start at 5:30am for coffee and a muffin and we’re in the trucks by 6 to drive into the bush looking for animals for three hours until we return to camp to a huge breakfast.  Then we’re free until 2:30 (to nap and edit photos) when there is a snack, big enough to be a lunch, and leave for another drive and rush back to the camp by 6pm because the safari companies are fined if they are out past that time so it is easier for the park to properly patrol for rhino poachers.  Then dinner is from 7:30pm until about 9.  I think everyone else then heads to bed, but I end up staying awake for another two to three hours uploading and starting to edit the hundreds of photos from that day.  I kept up with editing photos the first two days, but I’m writing this on day five and I’m almost halfway through the photos from day three.

Martial Eagle
I’ve never really been on a guided trip before.  It is great being a client.  It is so nice to not have to think for once.  I just have to show up when they tell me to and there is food and the plans are already made.  And the food is absolutely amazing.  

Burchell's Zebra
African Hawk-Eagle
Marabou Stork
The last few days have been pretty slow when it comes to spotting animals.  Hippos were the most exciting things for me, but there we drives when we’d hardly even see an elephant.  But the drive this evening changed that.  It started out slow, with just a few warthogs and impala and a giraffe.  After almost an hour we spotted another leopard (the third of the week) lounging in the middle of the road.  We were the only vehicle around, and only four of us in it, and watched it for about 20 minutes taking photos and video (I’ll put up videos in another post soon). We eventually left the leopard and all decided that if we didn’t see another animal for the rest of the evening we’d be happy.  Less than ten minutes later we saw a lion…and another….and another until all ten lions (a male, three females and six cubs) emerged from the grass on a hunting mission.  We followed them down the road for a while since they didn’t seem to want to get out of the way for us.  They ran back into the grass and we drove ahead to the rhinos that we’d spotted in the distance at the same time as the lions. The two white rhinos didn’t stick around long when we drove up, but we ended up seeing eight more before the end of the day.  After turning back toward the camp we ran into a heard of over a hundred water buffalo, a few dozen vultures, an elephant and a few zebras.  Besides seeing a kill I don’t think anything could top this drive.  I could go home happy now, but I still have 2 days left. 

African Elephant