Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Baseball4Africa Begins:2015

I always tell people who are interested in coming to Africa that South Africa is a good, easy place to start. Cape Town is a like little Europe, and the whole country has wonderful animal parks with easy roads and great infrastructure. Kenya on the other hand has pot hole filled roads, layers of fine dust that gets into everything, and corruption in the government which leads to the bad infrastructure. However, Kenya provides something that countries in Southern Africa don’t quite have, that wild Africa feeling where the animals still rule. The beauty of the wild animals, the incredible views like the endless savannas, the rift valley, and volcanic geology, and also amazingly nice people are what make Kenya so special. Over the last few days we have driven through herds of zebra and wildebeest in the savanna, we sipped a cold coke out of a glass bottle while overlooking the rift valley, but the most memorable things have been our interactions with people in different communities through our teaching baseball.
  Looking back over our first few days of baseball it is a wonder that it has gone so well. The difficulties with the program started before I even landed in Africa. Checking the Africa news while on my layover in New York I read an article about how all of the public school teachers in Kenya were on strike which meant the schools were closed. Since we teach baseball at the schools I was a little worried. Turns out the teachers go on strike quite often (about every 2 years) because the government can follow through with a deal for a pay raise that was struck 15 years ago! So after landing in Nairobi, Kenya and following up with the teachers and games masters of our baseball school we realized that teaching there at the moment is impossible. 

  Luckily my father, Jim, has made many wonderful contacts here in Kenya over the past decade of baseball4africa who have been invaluable to the sport here. In fact one of these friends, George Kinuthia, met us at the airport and helped us problem solve were to start this baseball season. George manages a community sports program in his district of Kabete so that was our first stop. He actually opened up his house for me, Jim, and Jack to stay at where we met up with his son Tyson, and wife Njeri. We stayed there for two nights while training the Kabete Vikings baseball. They caught on very quick and really took to the game. I think they have a bright future with someone as passionate as George taking the lead. 
   The  next day we traveled a few hours north to a town called Elburgon. This was a team that Jim had previously outfitted and trained with the help of some of the Japanese Embassy folks. I was blown away when we drove up to see the kids already on the field playing a game. I did not expect to see that level of knowledge of the game way out here. We trained with the kids here all morning and into the early afternoon, showing off different skills, games, and then even challenging them to a game; all of them against Jim, Jack, and me.

   Food is very important here in Kenya, and if you have all of the neighborhood kids out all day, George instructed us that something like bread and juice would be greatly appreciated. So we brought about 12 loafs of bread and two big juice concentrates to mix with water which in the end fed about 70 kids. All of that for $17. Its things like this that change your whole perspective on things. So the first two days of teaching baseball were a great success. That's when we met the Chief of Twitter and things really got rolling. To be continued...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Made it to Kenya: View from Acacia Camp

Acacia Camp Dining Room
Friendly Eland

Baseball4Africa season 10 has started here in Kenya. Jim, Jack, and I spent the first day at a quaint hideaway on the edge of the African savanna wildlands called Acacia Camp. Accommodations were rustic, highlighted by ants covering the toilet, but the meals were plentiful, and animals strolled through the grounds. We dove into the 400lbs of baseball equipment brought by the three of us and divide it up so each new team would have a full bag of equipment. It always amazes me to see how much equipment is needed for this sport; helmets, bats, balls, gloves, uniforms, and catchers gear. We also had to piece together the dismantled trophies which proved difficult at first. We also took a couple of nice long walks into the savanna to see some of the local wildlife. The usual suspects of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, a gazelles all made appearances as well as a rare sighting on foot of fringe-eared oryxs and some skittish wart hogs.
I was quickly reminded of a few things being here in Kenya; first of all the sun is very, very large when it rises and sets. It must be something with being near the equator and the angle of the atmosphere. Second, I was reminded how amazing the bird life is here. I awoke to the sounds of birds right outside my window. There were birds of all colors and sounds. If you aren’t a birder before you come to Africa you will quickly become one here.

Acacia Camp Bungalows

Female Sunbird
Grey Headed Kingfisher

Jack walking thru the savanna
Jack enjoying the Kenyan sunset colors

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sunrise in Savannah

Low Clouds and Sunrise over the Bluff
Isle of Hope Frame
Whenever I get back to Savannah I always try to take in a sunrise over the marsh from Bluff Drive on Isle of Hope. I have scored some of my favorite sunrise photographs from the vantage. Today I was lucky again, with beautiful sunrise colors bouncing off the low lying clouds and then reflected in the flat calm water.

  Savannah is one of those places that gets prettier and prettier everyone time you visit. It happened again this trip.

The iconic bluff drive on Isle of Hope

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Alaska Summer: A Look Back

 Alaska Summer: A Look Back

  I had always thought if I went on a cruise it would be to Alaska. It just seems that so many things can be seen by ship in Alaska; glaciers, whales, birds, and waterfalls tumbling out of the forest. Little did I know until a month before that I would be moving to Alaska to live and work aboard a small adventure cruise ship called the Wilderness Explorer. Halfway through my first interview with Un-Cruise they shifted my job focus from expedition guide to expedition leader. It turned out to be a challenging, but amazing job. As expedition leader I was in charge of coming up with the itinerary each week, as well as what adventures we would do there, when the adventures would go out and who would go on them. I had a wonderful staff of guides who I also managed. Not only did I have to come up and manage the schedule but I also had to figure out how to keep everyone up-to-date about upcoming activities. Something I quickly realized is that I could be working from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. And then all it took was a little weather to move in and crush all that I had worked so hard to schedule, so having a plan B, C, and even D became a prerequisite. 
  Luckily I don’t need a lot of sleep and I am about the most stress free person you will ever meet, so the job fit perfectly and I was able to see and do lots of incredible things all summer. I saw the first moose of the season, kayaked with orcas and humpback whales, had close encounters with brown and black bears, and saw some incredible views of the Aurora Borealis. I walked on glaciers and felt the waves from giant pieces of ice calving off tidewater glaciers. There were snorkels with nudibranchs and seals, and views of giant rafts of otters, and funny looking puffins. I felt like I was able to play a big part in sharing these experiences with all of the guest who sailed with us. And possibly the best part was sharing all of this with an amazing crew, in turn creating a great boat family.

  I’ve realized now that experiencing SE Alaska by boat is not just the best way, but is really the only possible way. There are over a thousand islands, most of it wilderness, with only three towns connected to the mainland by roads. We usually don’t see any other boats except the occasional passing commercial fishing boat or Alaskan ferry. We hike were there are no trails and explore new places every week because they look cool on a map and we can anchor there. It can be hard to find really big old growth forest because of all the historical logging, but I can see it is coming back and getting bigger. Everything is strictly managed these days from logging to fishing to hiking. But it still has the aura of being the modern day frontier. Even though the shanty towns and bordellos have all been shut down the essence of wild Alaska is flourishing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Aurora Borealis on my Last Night in Alaska

Aurora borealis
Aurora near Juneau, Alaska
The Aurora borealis in all of its glory showed up on my very last night in Alaska. I was wrapping up a wonderful week-long trip including bears, humpbacks, calving glaciers, and ice gardens, but it seemed that Alaska wanted to send me out with a bang.
  Around 12:30am our deckhand woke me up with the message of Northern Lights. As the expedition leader I am who gets to wake up and make the call to either wake up all of the passengers if its good, or let them sleep if its not. Either way it usually means a long night. So I put on some warm clothes, splashed some water on my face, and walked up on deck to a very mediocre show of the Northern Lights. But it was good enough so I made the announcement for people to get up and outside. As the passengers started trickling sleepily out of the cabins the lights dimmed a bit, but then to my great pleasure they came back with a vengeance. They became started dancing across the sky, almost like watching music, so I ran back in and grabbed my camera.

 I did a bit of research on what causes the Aurora and it seems that some of the cause is still unknown. However the general idea is that charged particles from the sun hit the Earth's magnetic field which causes the eerie lights in the night sky. Oxygen emissions cause the green and orange-red colors, while Nitrogen emissions cause the blue and red. We mostly see green at these latitudes in Southeast Alaska.
  Nature is a pretty amazing thing. No matter how many places I travel I can still find beautiful things everywhere I look. Luckily for me I have gotten into photography, which makes me walk a little slower with a much better eye for beauty in nature.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ice Gardens in Glacier Bay National Park

Stranded Berg
  My last week in Alaska was a big one, including hunting bears, northern lights, and a trip into Glacier Bay National Park. The schedule that I came up with for the week was a little rigorous, taking us to six glaciers over the course of two days to maximize our chance of seeing calving and for different glacier activities. We first woke up at the beautiful Margerie Glacier and the almost all black face of the Grand Pacific Glacier. Little chunks were falling off but the real calving show came from the huge Johns Hopkins Glacier were we went next.

Walking Amongst the Ice
Fun with the Polar Plunge
Dan exploring Lamplugh Glacier
  After the amazing calving experience at Johns Hopkins we headed off to Lamplugh Glacier for some good ol' fashioned polar plunge fun into the icy waters. Feeling alive and refreshed from the sub 40 degree water we filled up on lunch and then headed out for hikes, shorewalks, kayaks, and skiff tours around the glacier.
Johns Hopkins in all of its glory
Incredible Ice Sculptures at McBride Glacier
   I always try to have different activities to choose from for the guests as well as different levels of difficulty. Lamplugh glacier provides the entire gamut, from a very difficult ridge hike taking you high above the glacier, to a simpler shorewalk right next to the glacier, or even an easy kayak near the face of the glacier. Each activity gives you a very different perspective of the massive frozen river of ice.

Lamplugh Glacier, up close

Hidden Room in the Ice
Ice waiting for high tide

  After an amazing day of glaciers we booked it across the bay about 50 miles to the other end where McBride and Riggs glaciers await more activities. I had been wanting to make it to the McBride ice garden ever since seeing a screen saver on my coworkers computer from that place.
Margerie Glacier
Recent Calvings
  The glacier itself has receded back out of view, but there must be an incredible amount of calving activity still because huge chunks of ice flow down the out wash river and then get stuck on the shore at low tide. The ice garden effect that it creates makes it seem like you are walking through an ice sculpture garden that would have taken years to create. I had to be very careful taking pictures because of the constant rain but I managed to safely snap a few before having to pack away my camera. It was amazing to see so many different glacial landscapes over the course of our two days in the national park. I felt like I was going out with a bang.