Vagabond Eyes

I kinda took a break from writing in this blog during the last month.  I still intend to keep writing and updating friends, family, and the WordPress community about what’s been going on in my life, but in the meantime, I started up a new blog… a photo blog to post random pictures I’ve taken over the years.  They’re geared more at photos that I’ve taken while traveling.

The new blog is titled Vagabond Eyes, and you can find it here:  vagabondeyes.wordpress.com.

Come and visit, like it, follow it… I’m going to continue posting pictures there on a regular basis, and any feedback, comments, tips, and advice (either about photography or photoblogging) are greatly welcome!!!  I really want to improve my photography and be able to showcase them in a tasteful way online.

I’m back!

It’s been a very, very long time since I last updated my blog.  Since my last post, lots of things have happened, and hopefully I can write a more detailed blog post about each major event later.  In short, however, the school year has resumed (and my counterpart at the school quit at the end of last month).  My project, the HIV/AIDS Bike Trek (teaching students about HIV/AIDS across the Gambia), had its “training of trainers” weekend in Sept, and the Bike Trek itself is next week.  I traveled to Europe to see my family and friends in October.  I’m happy to report that I gained 5 lbs during that vacation, but I’m sad to say that I’ve probably lost it already.  But I’m super excited that Thanksgiving is around the corner :O nom nom nom…

In the meantime, here’s a little video that I made using my GoPro camera. It’s of me biking in the bush to my village. The video is a bit shaky because of the bumpy/sandy roads. Enjoy!

Quick recap of the last 2 months…

I have not updated this thing in ages with anything substantial… and tonight… I’m not really in the mood to write much. However, I will just give a very quick rundown of what has been happening in my life as of late.

Last December, I had my IST (In-Service Training). It lasted 1 week from December 17-23. Then I stayed in Kombo for Christmas with the rest of the Peace Corps folks. On December 28-29, there were a 2-day GAD Day workshop for volunteers and their counterparts, and I took my counterpart Lamin from the hospital. Then on December 30th, Joe, Sarah A., and I flew off and away to the Kingdom of Morocco! For 2 weeks, the three of us along with my friend Jordan (in the UK) explored Morocco. We went to Casablanca, Meknes, Volubilis, Chefchaouen, Fes, Marrakech, and a 3-day desert tour to the Sahara (via the Atlas Mountains and visiting places such as Merzouga, Todra Gorge, Ouarzazate, and Ait Benhaddou). (Note: I’ll do my best posting Morocco pictures and a better blog update about Morocco when I get more time.)

Upon arriving back in the Gambia, I went straight to work at the Senior Secondary School teaching computers. To my surprise, my counterpart at the school was no where to be found. He was MIA, and he remained MIA for 2 weeks! Finally, he returned on the 3rd week of classes, and low and behold, the day he arrived, he told us that he was resigning and going back to school to study. Hurray for me! 😦 Needless to say, my work at the school had increased. I had to stop going to the hospital and currently, I teach all the computer classes at the school. Almost every day, I’m at the school from 8am to about 7pm. Some afternoons, I head back home to eat lunch with my host family, but then I head back for evening classes. I’ve been doing this for over a month now, and I’m pretty exhausted. I’ve had to cancel some Friday classes because I just had to get out of site and relax in Kombo with the Peace Corps peeps.

For now, I’m hanging in there. If I don’t get a replacement counterpart soon, I know I’m going to burn out. The best thing I can do for myself at the moment is just skip some classes. It’ll force the school to find a replacement faster, and it will give me some breathing room. Term 2 is barely halfway through. Wish me luck on the 2nd half.

Departure…

It’s finally here.  Tomorrow, I leave for Staging.  I can’t believe the time has come.  So many emotions surging through me, but right now, at the state I’m in, I don’t have the words adequate enough to describe what I’m feeling, but I’ll try my best.

I went to church with my family this morning, and sitting there, I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on.  I just kept thinking about my family and friends.  What if something happens to my parents when I’m gone?  What happens if something happened to my sister or brother-in-law or my niece or my nephew?  I think I’m more worried about something happening to someone in my family than I am about something happening to me.  I briefly mentioned to my parents that I was really nervous about going, and my mom just casually responded, “This is what you want, so go for it!”  It really helped that she said that, and I was very happy she did.  I didn’t say much after.

Thinking back on this past week, I’ve had so much support from family and friends.  So many friends are SUPER excited for me to go… more excited that I even feel right now.  To be honest, I’m not that excited; I’m just very scared and nervous now.  The excitement left a few days ago after the realization that Staging was just around the corner.  My nerves are getting the better of me.  What if my bags are lost during transit?  What if I miss my flight or my connecting flight?  What if I’m not good at what I do, even with all the Peace Corps training?  What if I don’t learn the language well enough to pass the language tests at the end of training?  What if I get really sick right when I get there?  Mosquitos really really like my blood, so what if I catch a disease or illness that can’t be cured and I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life?  I know I worry too much, but who wouldn’t be thinking of these things if they were moving to Africa for 2 years?  For the most part, I know these fears are just in my head and once I get there, everything will fall into place, or at least I hope they do.  I’m hanging in there.  I bet in a couple of weeks, I’ll look back on this post and realize that I was being overly dramatic and stupid.  I hope that will be the case.  Plus, I’m just ranting right now.  My thoughts are everywhere.  I apologize for that.

In short, I leave tomorrow morning.  I fly to Staging, and then on Wednesday, I fly to Africa… Goodbye USA!  See you in 2 years!

I think I’m overpacking… as usual…

As promised, I’ve created a packing list of all the things I’m bringing to The Gambia.  The Peace Corps provided us with a VERY LONG and EXTENSIVE list, which isn’t good because it’s my nature to tend to overpack.  Although I’ve listed out everything that I originally had intended to pack, I’ve already started removing things from my luggage because it’s a bit overweight.  We’re allowed to bring 80 lbs of check-in bags (I’m bringing a rolling suitcase and a backpacking backpack), and no bag is to exceed 50 lbs.  Welps… one of my bags is already over 50 lbs, and it wasn’t even full yet!  HELP!

Luggage/Bags:

  • High Sierra A.T. GO 26-Inch Expandable Wheeled Duffel with Backpack Strap
  • REI Flash 50 Internal Frame Backpack
  • Lowepro Fastpack 250 Camera and Laptop Bag
  • Outdoor Products Vortex Daypack
  • Several reuseable cloth and plastic grocery bags
  • Several drawstring bags

Clothing:

  • Merrell Moab Waterproof Hiking Shoes
  • Keen Newport H2 Sandals
  • Havaiana Flip Flops
  • Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11 Running Shoes (I’m a runner)
  • Dress Shoes (for the formal Peace Corps events that we might be attending)
  • Lots of Socks
  • 4 dress Shirts
  • 12 collared polo or short-sleeve button-up shirts (casual and semi-formal)
  • 4 everyday T-Shirts
  • 4 plain white Hanes T-Shirts (you never know when you need an undershirt)
  • 3 long-sleeve shirts (for the cooler season and for traveling to colder climate countries)
  • 2 tank tops (for sleeping in)
  • 1 khaki pants
  • 1 slacks
  • 1 casual gray pants
  • 2 jeans
  • 2 convertible pants (pants that unzip to shorts)
  • 2 shorts
  • 2 workout/sleeping shorts
  • 1 runner shorts
  • 2 swim trunks
  • 1 pair of PJs
  • 1 pair of bike shorts
  • REI Sahara Cadet Cape Hat
  • Outdoor Research Bug Bucket Hat Bucket/Fisherman’s Hat
  • Lots of underwear (Boxers, Boxer Briefs, and Briefs)
  • 3 belts (1 formal, 2 casual)
  • 2 neck ties
  • Beanie
  • 2 bandanas
  • Ear muffs (for traveling to colder climate countries)

Bathroom:

  • Medicines (Clear Eyes, Muro 128 Eye Drops, Hydrocortizone Cream, Anti-Diarrheal Tablets, DayQuil, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Pseudoephedrine (aka Sudafed), Diphenhydramine (aka Benedryl), Fenesin DM (cough medicine), Preparation H (just in case), Cipro Antibiotics (for Traveler’s Diarrhea), Cough Drops)
  • Bar soap and soap container
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (Peppermint)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrushes and toothbrush containers
  • Toothpaste
  • Face wash
  • Mini-bottles of travel shampoo/conditioners
  • Baby wipes
  • Shaving gel
  • Old electric shaver (just in case I can’t stand shaving with a razor)
  • Shaving razor and razor refills
  • Q-Tips
  • Floss
  • Cologne
  • Extra empty medicine bottles (they’re good containers to hold random small items)
  • Small portable mirror
  • Nail cutting kit (nail cutters, file, tweezers)

Kitchen:

  • Can opener
  • 4-pack of thin plastic flexible cutting boards (to use also as a clean flat surface)
  • Ziplock bag (sandwich, 1 Quart, 1 Gallon sizes)
  • Small frying pan
  • Sponges
  • Portable camping fork, spoon, knife set
  • Seasoning packets
  • Spices
  • Coffee and teas
  • Crystal Light mix
  • Powdered Gatorade mix
  • Clif Bars

Office:

  • Pens
  • Mechanical pencils
  • Pencil lead refills
  • Lots of No. 2 wooden pencils
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Notebooks
  • Journal
  • Post-It pads
  • Calendar
  • Bookmark
  • Sharpies
  • Highlighters
  • Small ruler
  • Clip board
  • Binder (to hold all my Peace Corps paperwork)
  • Ball of rubber bands
  • Krazy Glue
  • Notecards (lots of it to make language flashcards)
  • Duck tape
  • Packing tape
Electronics:
(I’m an ICT (Information Computer Technology) volunteer, so I think I’m going overboard with the electronic equipment, but you never know when you’ll need it)
  • MacBook Pro 13″ Laptop
  • Sony IC Recorder Mode lICD-PX312 (voice recorder to help with language learning)
  • Ipod Nano
  • Smartphone (to use while traveling and if Wi-Fi is available)
  • DSLR camera
  • Point-and-shoot camera
  • GoPro camera
  • 1TB WD My Passport External HD
  • 120GB Seagate FreeAgent Go External HD
  • 5 Flash Driver of varying sizes (128MB, 512MB, 2GB, 8 GB, and 32 GB)
  • 2 Pelican 1040 Micro Cases (to store and protect the external HDs and flash drives)
  • Notebook Computer Serialized Cable Lock
  • Blank CDs and DVD-Rs
  • Nook Simple Touch E-reader
  • Nokia 1112 Phone with spare battery
  • Eton Microlink FR160 (hand-crank AM/FM radio and flashlight)
  • Ethernet cables
  • Mouse
  • Mousepad
  • GoalZero Nomad 7 Solar Panel
  • GoalZero Guide 10 Plus
  • AA Battery Charger and 2 AAA Adapters
  • GoalZero Rock Out Portable Speakers
  • AA & AAA rechargeable batteries
  • AA & AAA non-rechargeable Duracell batteries (just in case the rechargeable ones die)
  • CD/DVD Jewel Cases and CD/DVD paper envelopes
  • Various software (Microsoft Windows 7 Installation DVD and Activator CD, Microsoft Office 2007 sp2 Installation DVD, Microsoft Windows 98 Installation CD, Microsoft Windows XP Pro Installation CD, Microsoft Office XP Installation CD, Adobe Software (various), Nero OEM Suite (found this old installer CD), other old but possibly useful Windows programs, Mac OSX Snow Leopard Installation DVD)
  • Pedometer (just for fun to see how much I walk around)
  • Plug adapters (x4)

Miscellaneous:

  • Mountain Hardware Lamina 45 Sleeping Bag
  • Pacsafe 85 Anti-Theft Backpack And Bag Protector (not sure how useful this is going to be, but I bought it anyway)
  • SteriPen (handheld UV water purifer)
  • Booklets of Stickers (for kids)
  • Dum Dum lollipops (for kids)
  • Bubble gum (for kids)
  • Altoid Mints
  • Icebreakers Mints
  • 2 Nalgene Plastic Water Bottles
  • 1 Nathan Steel Water Bottle (with 2 extra replacement straws)
  • 2 Small Photo Albums (with pictures)
  • Headlamps (x3)
  • Leatherman
  • Digital wristwatch
  • Sunglasses (1 old pair and 1 cheap new pair)
  • Combination locks (x4) and key locks (x5) (some of these were used on my luggage)
  • Bed sheets (1 Queen and 1 Full)
  • 4 pillow cases
  • Towels (1 Extra Large PackTowl and 1 Small PackTowl)
  • Night eye mask (to help sleep on the plain)
  • Carabiners (you can never have too many)
  • Bug spray (3 bottles)
  • Sunblock (3 bottles)
  • Poncho (x2)
  • Whistle
  • Hacky sack ball (I used to play when I was a kid, and found one in my closet)
  • Playing cards (2 decks)
  • Map of the world (to help me plan out where to travel during my vacation time)

So this is my packing list.  Again, I think I overpacked, and I will be cutting out some of these things, but at least for now, this is what is in my luggage and also scattered around my room.  I’m praying that I get most of these things to fit, but if they don’t, then I’ll have them shipped in a couple months.

My little European video…

I’ve had my DSLR camera since August 2011, and I’ve been taking thousands of pictures with it ever since.  My hard drive in my Mac was exploding at the seams until I purchased a new 1 TB external drive last March.  The reason I’ve been taking so many pictures is because not too long after getting my DSLR, I discovered time-lapse photography.  I fell in love with the concept and had been learning how to create time-lapses, from how to take the pictures, to how to edit them, to how to create and edit the videos.  I quickly learned you need a lot patience.  Needless to say, taking pictures of an ice cube melting was one of the first time-lapse clips I created, and much patience was learned.

Fast forward to February 2012.  I took a trip to Europe for the first time, visiting Barcelona, London, and Paris.  I decided it would be a great opportunity to take time-lapse pictures on the trip, so I packed 2 tripods with me and off I went.  It was quite a hassle having to stop every now and then for 10-15 minutes to take pictures, and I know I might have annoyed my friends a bit, but it was well worth it in the end.  Since this is my first video, any feedback and comments are welcome.  I’m hoping that I can continue taking time-lapse photos while I’m abroad in Africa, so the more I can learn now, the better prepared I will be later.  Enjoy!

Zion National Park, Utah…

A couple of months ago, I decided I wanted to do one last camping adventure with some friends before leaving for the Peace Corps.  Since this was a trip I wanted to do, I decided to plan it myself.  For the past two summers, I had gone to Yosemite and camped for 3 days.  This year, I wanted to go somewhere different and to a place I hadn’t gone to before.  I picked Zion National Park in Utah.

I booked a campsite at the Watchman campgrounds last March.  Spots were running out fast, so I was glad to get a site.  Three friends were willing to make the trip with me, and so last Friday on May 11th, we headed out to Zion.  From where I live, Google Maps estimated about 7 hours of driving.  We would be taking route I-15, driving north past Barstow and Las Vegas, crossing not just Nevada, but also a tiny sliver of Arizona before reaching Utah.  Once at Zion, we bought some last-minute essentials (i.e. food, firewood, beers, ice, etc.) at the local grocery shop nearby and then checked into the campground.  We set up our campsite rather quickly considering it was in the dead heat of the day, in the high 80s to low 90s.

Once everything was all set up, we decided to start our hikes.  Our first excursion was to drive through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which connects Zion Canyon to the east side of the park.  It’s a 1 mile tunnel that cuts through the mountains and was built in the 1920s.  It’s amazing that there are no electric lights in the tunnel; only a few side openings in the mountain every couple hundred feet are present to let in light.  At night, it would be pitch black driving through the Tunnel.

Once outside the eastern exit of the Tunnel, we parked our car and took a short easy hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail, with lots of nooks and lookout points to explore.

At the end of the trail, you get a nice glimpse of the entire lower portion of Zion Canyon.  Some sites visible from the overlook include the West Temple, the Altar of Sacrifice, the Streaked Wall, and the Sentinel.  Overall, the overlook was a magnificent first glimpse of Zion.

Later at night while resting back at camp, the night sky over Zion was speckled with stars.  It was a great evening to end our first day in Utah.

On Day 2, we set our sights on Angel’s Landing.  This famous rock formation takes about 4-5 hours to hike.  We left camp at 9am, a little later than we had hoped.  The trail was paved for most of the bottom and mid portions.  Steep switchbacks made the climb tiring and tough.  Walter’s Wiggles, a portion of switchbacks leading to the higher elevations, made for a fun picture.  At the top, chains mounted to the rocks help you trek up the side of the cliffs.  For a good half mile or so, you are climbing along a narrow ledge where loose footing can send you plummeting down on either side of the mountain.

However, this narrow path makes for an exciting, heart-stomping hike.  The entire chain portion of the trek is filled with great views of the valley below, and when you finally reach Angel’s Landing, you get a picturesque view of Zion Canyon.  (Here are three videos of us hiking to Angel’s Landing that I posted on YouTube: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3.)

Although we were at Angel’s Landing at around noon, winds and cool air at the top of the mountain kept us fairly comfortable.  At the bottom of the valley, the heavy heat slowed us down, so we decided to go for a little dip in the Virgin River.  Refreshing!  It was just what the doctor ordered!  Afterwards, we headed to Zion Lodge to grab some smoothies before heading to our next hike, the Emerald Pools.  This little hike leads to three small pools of water, the Lower Pool, Middle Pool, and Upper Pool.  The Lower Pool, which was the easiest hike and only took us 20 minutes or so to reach, was by a tiny little sprinkling waterfall.  The Middle Pool was a little further up a ways, but it was mostly dried up.  The Upper Pool was a slightly tougher hike.  The trail crept towards the mountain, leading to the mountain’s rock wall where an oasis, the Upper Pool, emerged from the sandy trail.  On the mountain wall, we found rock climbers belaying down from the very top.  After watching the climbers come down the mountain, we headed back to Zion Lodge, grabbed some beer to cool our thirst, and then made our way back to camp for dinner.

Day 3 was our last day at Zion.  We packed our tents and gear back into the car, but headed out for one last hike.  We got onto the shuttle and headed to the Temple of Sinawava stop.  There, we were going to follow the Riverside Walk Trail.  This paved trail follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon.  At the end of the trail, we decided to switch into our water shoes (me in my Vibrams Five Fingers KSO shoes) and plunge into the river to get a taste of The Narrows hike.  Hiking The Narrows basically means hiking in the Virgin River, where most of the hike is spent wading, walking and even swimming in the river.  We weren’t planning on doing The Narrows when we came to Zion, so we weren’t going to do the entire length of the river (not to mention, we had to drive back home that same day).  For about an hour, we followed the river upstream, the cold water reaching all the way to my lower thighs.  Although we only went about a quarter-mile into the river before turning back, it was still a wonderful experience and a great way to end our trip to Zion.

This has been a refreshing and much-needed adventure.  I got to spend quality time with terrific friends, I got to travel and explore new places, and I got to relax while having fun.

Zion, I plan on coming back, and I have my eyes set on you.  The Narrows… The Subway… be prepared.  I’m going to hike both of you next time I’m there!