Reflecting on Culture

Earlier this week I was driving down a street in my home town, Marin Avenue in Albany, California. It’s only been a few days since our return from Tanzania. There is a orderly stream of cars moving along. The street is lined with neat single-family homes. There are no people on the sidewalks, no bikes on the bike path, just an orderly stream of traffic, each car with a single occupant. Each of us in isolation. I’m struck by the the contrast to our experiences in Tanzania. Where are the people, the humanity,  the motorbikes, the thousands of small shops, the roadside vendors and the people going about business? My own neighborhood seems stark and sterile compared with vibrant throngs of people on the streets in Arusha. A stark contrast in cultures. I feel like a fish, having just returned to my fishbowl, and having a whole new perspective about water. I see my own culture as one where people are isolated, insular, each in our own carefully constructed realities, where fear, suspicion and anxiety are prevalent. I wouldn’t even notice this if it weren’t for the opportunity to step into another culture. Even a brief visit gives insights about my own insecurities and biases. As we visited with the people in Africa, I began to appreciate a people that seem less anxious, less fearful, and free to express themselves. One morning as we toured the market place in Moshi, I wanted to photograph some of the people. I had been informed to be cautious about photographing people; many people do not want to be photographed. As I worked with our guide, Sophie, I found, that while some people clearly did not want to be photographed, others were more than willing, and became quite expressive. As we passed one little butcher shop the butcher invited Joann into his shop to pose for a photo, nearly grabbing her off the sidewalk. His enthusiasm and joie de vivre were infectious and something that seemed to create a bond of friendship, transcending our cultures. I doubt that such and interaction would happen on the streets of Berkeley.  I doubt that my idea of “normal” will ever be the same having spent time in Africa. Or if life does start to look normal, that will be my cue to plan anther trip.



African Safari: Day 10

Game Drive. Lion’s Paw Camp on the eastern rim of Ngorongoro Crater. At 0515 I’m awakened from a greeting from outside the tent, “good morning.” I respond in kind saying “good morning” to our steward. We join our guide, David for breakfast in the dining tent. Breakfast includes fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, watermelon), coffee, toast with jam, eggs, sausage and bacon. At 6:00 we lave the dining tent for the short walk to the truck. The air is heavy with mist and swirling clouds, and despite my thermal layer I feel a bit of a chill at 7000 feet. No sign of the sun yet, but our goal is to get to the crater floor ahead of the army of tourists that will be descending into the crater from the western rim, where most of the tours originate. Lion’s Paw is a bit remote and off the beaten track. We were, in fact, the only guests in camp. We felt well taken care of there with the staff of five to serve the three of us. The road into the crater is a steep narrow dirt track, and we find ourselves “herding” the zebras and Cape Buffalo off the road as we made our slow descent. Our goal is to hunt for elephant and rhinos, since we’ve already had the opportunity to view most of the animals that habituate the crater. And sure enough, with David’s expert knowledge and sharp eyes we find our first elephant shortly after sunrise. We spend a fair amount of time watching him pull up grass, knocking the dirt clods off and munching mouthfuls. Then it’s off to hunt for rhinos. We find a pair, at quite a distance. It turns out that rhinos are shy of noise and prefer to keep their distance from the noise of safari vehicles. None-the-less, it’s exciting to watch from a distance with binoculars and a long lens. We continue our tour of the crater floor stopping for Thompson’s gazelle, buffalo, zebras, hippos, lions and a variety of other birds and wildlife. At the hippo pool David sets up the picnic that the camp provided. Complete with china, table cloth, table and chairs. We compete with some pesty and colorful birds for our lunch fixings. After lunch we continue our drive. Now it’s the light that fascinates me. Rays of sun shining through clouds and lighting up the wildlife and crater walls.
It’s 3:00 Pm when we return to camp. A long enough day.

Up the Creek

On Sunday February 20, I paddled my kayak up San Rafael Creek, launching from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor. The original plan was to meet with a number of fellow paddlers for a paddle across the bay.  With high winds predicted, crossing the bay did not sound like a wise thing to do, so I cancelled the organized paddle. Being the trip initiator though, I thought I should show up at the launch site to intercept anybody that might not have gotten the word about the cancellation.  No other kayaks showed up. From the launch site it’s just a short distance to San Rafael Creek, and for the most part, staying close to shore provides protection from the wind. I decided I would go on a solo paddle. I was wearing a full dry suit for protection should I end up in the water, my personal flotation device (PFD, lifejacket), and I had a marine VHF radio and cell phone which I keep in a Lifeproof case, along with my trusty little Olympus Tough TG-4 waterproof camera which has become my go-to camera for paddling. I was also curious to know how my new boat, the Pygmy Ronan, would handle in the wind. So I put my boat in the water, climbed in and took my time paddling up the creek as far as I could go. Being solo I was able to poke along and explore the yacht harbors and boats without having to keep up with the gang; free to do my own thing. Here are a few photos I captured along the way. Happy to report that the boat handled the wind better than I expected. Many kayaks tend to “weathercock” meaning they turn into the wind, which adds to the effort required to get the boat to go in the direction you want. Skegs and rudders are often used to correct for this. I’m thinking I may be fine without any modifications. Shortly after I returned to my launch site the wind picked up and I was happy to be off the water.  A round trip of 5.5 miles. If you are curious about just where it was I was paddling you can see my track here.

Photo for Best BLM Camping – 2017

Our camp at Keyesville Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA)
Our camp at Keyesville Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA)

A photo we posted to Campendium as part of our review of our camping experience was selected for the best BLM Camping – 2017. Check out the link here.  Campendium is one  of our go-to resources when looking for off-the-grid camping locations. This photo was taken on December 26, 2017. I wrote an earlier blog article about our visit here.

Paddle On


Here’s a photo I captured yesterday at Horseshoe Bay as the morning fog was starting to dissipate. The three kayakers in the foreground were part of the Paddle Golden Gate Symposium, and event sponsored by California Canoe and Kayak. I participated in a workshop on “Forward Stroke Refinement.” When paddling with others recently, I’ve marveled at paddlers that can go great distances without their arms falling off, and I’m motivated to learn how to do that. Who would know how much technique can go into making a kayak go forward smoothly and efficiently?  On the very basic level, you just put your paddle in the water, use it as an anchor and drive the boat forward with your feet, using your hamstrings and obliques to power the boat. Sounds simple right?

Our class had 11 participants, with folks from Boston, Port Townsend, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and three world class coaches, Sean Morley, Chris Hipgrave and Marcel Bieg. I took a quick tally of the class rosters and figured there were well over 100 boats on the water with paddlers participating in 13 different workshops. Quite an amazing event. I’m off today, catching up on some work projects, and back tomorrow for “Traditional Skills & Rolling.” I may get wet tomorrow. Stay tuned!


Christmas in the Alabama Hills

Christmas eve found us in the Eastern Sierra setting up camp in the Alabama Hills. There were four of us and two campers. Our son Aaron and his wife Serena joined us for the overnight camping trip, about 45 minutes south of their place in Big Pine. Part of our mission was to see if we could create a photo of our two campers worthy for Truck Camper Magazine’s calendar. It will remain to be seen if our photos make it into the calendar but we had fun scouting a location, setting up camp and creating photos. The location we picked had a view of the crest of the Sierra’s with the peak of Mount Whitney visible to the west and an outcropping of granite boulders to the east, hiding some of the other campers in the area.

The Alabama Hills is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Open to camping year round. Dog friendly and free of charge. There are no facilities though, so bring your own water.  Inclined to be hot in summer, we had mild winter temperatures, with the thermometer recording a low of 39 degrees overnight.

We’ve recently discovered Dutch Oven cooking and we put our oven to use cooking a savory Christmas eve dinner of chicken and rice. with chunks of chicken breast wrapped in thinly sliced ham and bacon. Breakfast was quiche with ham left over from an early Christmas dinner a couple of days earlier when our daughter and her husband rendezvoused with us on their way to Utah.

Bishop Tableland Petroglyps

With family together in Big Pine for a few days we decided to take a hike yesterday, December 22 to explore some of the petroglyphs on the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, California. Much of the tablelands are managed by BLM and and this suited us as a dog-friendly hike since we had three dogs among the six of us. This area is sprinkled with petroglyphs. Some are readily accessible by car, others require some rock scrambling and local knowledge. We visited two sites. I hesitate to say much about the locations since some of these rock art features have been vandalized or ripped off in recent years. A sorry state on the lack of respect we seem to have for the environment, our cultural treasures and our public lands. There is little known about when these artworks were created.  If you wish to find information on the tablelands and the petroglyphs, please contact the Bishop Visitor’s Center.