Tongariro Volcano Comparison

Wow! What a difference between this video and our photos of the serene Tongariro Crossing! This volcano blew today on New Zealand’s north island, and a teacher took the video footage below. Then see our peaceful photo from 2008 and Jason’s blog post about the trip.

Video of Tongariro Eruption- 2012

Jason’s blog post- 2008

Erin’s blog photo- 2008:

A peaceful view of the Tongariro Crossing in 2008



A world of voters

I’ll admit, before traveling around the world, I was not a very political person. I understood the basics and knew which way I leaned, but I never got into the (sometimes friendly) banter that excited many during election time. As I traveled I met hundreds of international acquaintances, some of which had been to the USA and some of which had not. Their experience with the USA ran the gauntlet from knowing America as a “reality tv show episode” to attending prestigious universities and living and working in The States for years.  Often finding I was one of the only Americans to speak up for my nation, answer questions, and defend this beautiful  place I call home, I had to beef up my knowledge of our political system. I needed to really decide where I stood on hot international topics such as foreign affairs and the environment and on issues that came up when speaking to others in my generation: mostly health care and education. I felt issues such as taxes and gas prices dwindle in importance to me, seeing how comparatively cheap it really is to live in the USA.  Don’t get me wrong, I see the importance of these, but you sometimes have to choose what you’re very passionate about and that’s what I did. It seemed that the sentiments of many people at home (as seen through social media and lifestyle choices) were completely opposite from those who viewed the USA from the outside, as their country’s ally, a world leader and sometimes an international bully. I’ve always wondered: if the world could vote, what would they say? Then I ran into this survey. Although I wish it were more extensive, I do feel it starts to draw conclusions from around the world, and after hearing common sentiments from foreigners for two years, I was not surprised.

Check it out if you’d like. Have you also found these opinions to be true on your international travels?

See survey here.

Country Roads

It’s not exactly a country road that cuts Shenandoah National Park in half, winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we couldn’t help but sing along to John Denver’s Country Roads. “Blue Ridge Mountaaaiins, Shanendoahhh Riiiver,” we chirped. The first night of our camping adventure had started off perfectly, just our style. We’d lost our way, arrived to a locked entrance gate, and it was already dark. With headlights glowing, we rapidly assembled poles and raised our tent near the entrance, planning on leaving at sunrise to begin our four day hike in the wilderness. Knowing this was our last moment for luxury, we cracked a cold beverage from our cooler and said a “cheer” to our first night in Virginia. It only took ten minutes for headlights to illuminate our tent and a voice to call out in a southern drawl,”Who gives ya’ll permission ta camp her?” Jason and I smiled and he stepped out of the tent to chat, hoping he could smooth it over so we didn’t have to move everything in the dark.
Now this may not seem like the perfect scenario I just promised, but be patient and let me explain why it was.
Jason shook hands with Daniel, a local whose home butts up to Shenandoah National Park. After Jason finished apologizing and explaining that the National Park’s Website told us to camp outside the gate, Daniel said things had changed and this was private property, but since we seemed like “nice people” he’d let us stay and we could park our car in his yard for the duration of our trip. He said he and his wife had been surprised to see us camped near their home since we thought it was the public gate, and he reenacted the scenario by reporting they said, “By golly! Whats that?! A tent?!” We all had a laugh and were friends. May I note, Jason’s charm lead Daniel to the conclusion we were “nice people” within one minute of the conversation?!
Coming back with a can of beer and a mouthful of stories, we got an insider’s perspective to this area. He told us tales of fishing and hunting for mushrooms in the woods, which got our attention since we’d brought poles and fishing licenses. When asking if he ever found morels, Daniel got excited and exclaimed,”Well y’all do know ya shrooms!” He told us tales of finding leatherbacks, a mushroom that looks like leather on the top, but when you break it off, it drips a milky dew. He told us it was delicious with fish, fried up with grease or butter. (Note that there were only two ways to cook them in his mind: fried in grease or fried in butter. Southern home cooking!) We commented that we’d be on the lookout for them, hoping not to go the way of “Into The Wild.” We clarified the specifics and he told us we’d know we had one when our hands stained black from touching.

As you can see from the photos, this was one of the best parts of our hiking trip to Shenandoah! Mushroom hunting became a sport for us. Had we not gone astray the first night, we may have never learned to appreciate what the locals do! More on our domestic backpacking adventure to come.




Update on Nepal Notebook Campaign – Funds on the Way!

Well, after all that work, back-and-forth stress, and endless paperwork, our friendly bank here in the USA didn’t approve our international bank account application.  In response, we gave them the American Salute, and opened up a different account to avoid paying exorbitant bank fees and ensure that ALL of the money donated ends up in the hands of these students.  Long story, but the moral is:


Volunteers Unload First Batch of Notebooks

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been over 9 months since we began this project and your generous donations started pouring in.  We’re up to $3,530 in donations, over 85% of the way to our goal.  If you have an extra buck to spare, can you donate to help 30 children in remote Nepal receive an education?  Or, can you click on the facebook button at the bottom and share this with friends to help us reach our goal? 

Thank you as always for your support and included in this post are some pictures of the notebooks that have been purchased thus far.  More updates to follow!

Back Cover of Notebooks

Hundreds of scholarship forms have been received and we will choose 30 students to receive supplies, uniforms, and a fully funded school year thanks to your donation!

As promised, if you donated $140 or more to support a student for the year, you will receive a letter and photo from your sponsored child when they receive their items. Thank you for your patience, as we finalize these international transactions.

If you would like to learn more about this project, please visit our Nepal Notebook Campaign site!

View original article on this subject.

View second update article on this subject.

The Spirit of Giving – Afrika Burn

No need for the rain coat or wool socks, I thought, grouping together necessities for our desert trip on my left and the items I’d leave in our Johannesburg hostel on my right. I’ve found that traveling requires lots of organization, calculation and a constantly changing idea of what is necessary and what is inessential. “Do we really both need toiletries or can we just share?” I asked, while trying to push our tent, chairs, blankets, mats and camping dishes into a large, plastic box. Our friend Ollie had presented us with an amazing farewell gift when in Namibia, purchasing everything we needed for camping, including cups and plastic wine glasses, all cookware, maps and wildlife photo books, and even a poitje seasoning to make the famous African stew over a fire. He had settled it all perfectly, as pieces in a game of Tetris, in a large, plastic box and told us to enjoy Africa. It brought tears to our eyes that someone had gone to this extent to organize everything we needed for the next 3 months. Now, unlike Ollie’s perfect packing job, The box was stuffed with everything we needed for a short stint in the Karoo Desert for the AfrikaBurn Festival, lid not even close to clamping shut.
Good thing it’s the desert and we will barely need any clothes, I thought.

Four days later, hail the size of peach pits catapulted toward our little rental car. We held our breath, driving through two-foot puddles on rutted, dirt roads, praying we would not get a flat tire. “Welcome to Tankwa Town Tented Camp,” one sign read. Flash flood warnings blared from the radio and nylon rain covers, once protecting tents underneath, swirled outside our car, pinned down by one or two remaining stakes. This wasn’t quite what we’d expected, after hearing tales of 100 degree heat and cautionary speeches about bringing 5 liters of water a day per person to avoid dehydration. “I think I under-packed,” I thought, while remembering my raincoat and wool socks back in Johannesburg.

We had first learned about “Afrika Burn” from a traveler in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. Kerrin, a Capetonian with a free spirit, is often quoted by us in our makeshift South African accent, for saying, “Awwwww, kewwwwl maaaaaan.” Kerrin is a delight to travel with and when hearing we were headed to her hometown, she gave us a list of must-see activities. Then she mentioned an art and camping festival in the desert, which was similar to Burning Man but with 1/12 of the people. Our ears perked up and we vowed that we would buy tickets to the event eight months down the road.

Well here we were, along with two new American travel buddies from Savannah, Georgia, Meredith and Jane, who we had met in Livingstone, Zambia. The four of us were excited for a long weekend of art, costumes, and music. There is no money exchanged at this event, so everything must be brought in or borrowed and shared while attending. We had packed s’mores ingredient to teach other campers about this fine American delicacy and body paint to get a bit creative. “The Spirit of Giving” is huge at Afrika Burn and is the underlying theme to everything. If you bring enough to share, you can assume that you, too, will be taken care of. Whether it’s a serenade by a funky musician, a cold drink at midday, or hot pancakes served outside your tent at 10 am, the circle of sharing always provides.

We pulled into our camp spot in the middle of the icy storm. A brief moment of despair washed over the four of us as we discussed sleeping in the car, since our tents would surely leak or blow away in this monstrosity. But our minds settled thirty minutes later when the sky grew orange with the setting sun and the rain ceased, leaving muddy puddles atop the calloused desert sand. “At least we know where the high ground is now,” we sputtered, avoiding the water when staking down what would be our home for the next 4 nights. We now became optimistic for the next day’s activities and to see everything that Tankwa Town had to offer. Cozy inside our tents that night, we just hoped the morning sun would shine brightly to soak up the puddles of the prior storm and allow us to explore.

Thanks to our friend Dan, who works as a costume designer in Capetown, we were set with funky apparel for the festivities in the morning. Boxes upon boxes were packed with items from movies such as Death Race and Blue Crush II, and all of them called to us from the trailer behind Dan’s car. The four of us Americans had a laugh at all of the different personalities we could pull off, and got as creative as possible with the movie props. Then after breakfast, we set out to explore! We mailed postcards from a station called Burning Mail, jumped on a large trampoline, enjoyed vodka slushies in a swanky, white club, and listened to live music in a Bedouin tent…all for free. The second day, we decided to give back by making a collaborative station with Dan and Benitha. These two had been to Afrika Burn before and brought loads of crafts to help people decorate their bicycles. So the four of us Americans parlayed that idea with a bit of help decorating the bikers, too. We named our station “Pimp your Ride and Rider.” With body paint and brushes, we added color to anyone who would let us decorate their arms, backs and faces!

As we walked around during the day, we marveled at the newly constructed art exhibits, made of wood. Some were models of African safari animals, some were geometric structures, and others were replicas of famous buildings. In a world when everything spectacular calls for a Facebook page update, it was nice being disconnected and just enjoying this art without needing to act. And in order to prove that it is all non-material happiness one takes from the art, each exhibit was burned at night, only to last in the viewer’s memory. With stars above in their extra-bright desert state, the center of the camp ground came alive and the wooden art exhibits were set on fire. Some artists had music playing while their structures burned, others asked for peace and quiet, to reflect and appreciate the work that had gone into the exhibit. One art piece, a huge dinosaur on wheels, even took off across the desert as the fire pushed it along. On the last night of burning, we passed around s’mores and explained how to make them to many curious campers.

When the morning of our departure arrived, we did a sweep of our campsite, so as not to leave anything behind. We had read many MOOP signs throughout our time at the festival, explaining that leaving Matter Out Of Place was not a responsible way to treat the Karoo Desert, and we agreed, with everything the Karoo had provided for us. All four of us commented that we had never seen a festival so clean and litter-free, which really told a lot about the people who attended Afrika Burn.

At a stop at the road-side farm stall about an hour from Tankwa Town, we got out to stretch and buy a snack. It was so strange to scrounge in our wallets for money after just four days without it, and we were sad to have to lock our car doors when parking it in the lot. We had not realized what a dream world we’d lived in for the past four days, and now we were acclimatizing back to reality. However, we hoped to carry one aspect of Afrika Burn with us whether in the Karoo or anywhere else in the world. With fresh reminders about the Spirit of Giving, we all agreed that life is just easier when you look out for your fellow man and share what has been bestowed upon you. We hope to keep this attitude alive and continue Afrika Burn’s traditional Spirit of Giving as often as possible. Won’t you join us?

Many thanks to Dan and Benitha for taking us new-comers under their wings. To Keelan and Indigo, thanks for reminding us what it’s like to see things through the excited eyes of a “kid.” And to our new American friends, Jane and Meridith, we could not have asked for better people with whom to dwell in the desert. Can’t wait to meet up in the USA. Maybe Myrtlewood will even show for the next event! 😉

To check out more about Afrika Burn, visit their website.









Safari Know-How in Southern Africa (on a Budget)

Zebra Hugs

Lions and Cheetahs.  Leopards and Elephants.  Rhinos, Hippos, Buffalos, Zebras, Giraffes and more.  You’ve seen it on Nat Geo or Discovery and you’ve most likely said “someday, I want to do that.”  But, safaris are pricey adventures, right?  Google “Safari Africa” or “Safari South Africa” and seeing packages for a week costing over $10,000 USD, you’d soon be led to believe that you’d have to seriously break the bank in order to witness these gorgeous creatures completely in their element.  Not so.  Leave it up to us to find a less expensive way of getting it done.  Here’s the nitty gritty on where best to find the Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Black Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo) in Southern Africa and doing it on the cheap.

Continue reading “Safari Know-How in Southern Africa (on a Budget)”

How to Avoid Paying Bribes to Corrupt Police Officers Worldwide

Remember the last time you were abroad and were constantly getting pulled over or stopped by police, then asked for paperwork that doesn’t exist, fire extinguishers that don’t exist, and threats to take your license or passport to the capital 400 miles away?  Most times all these corrupt jerks wanted was a bribe and through bitten tongue, you ponied up.  Well, fear not, we’ve figured out how to avoid paying the bribe and you can too.  Just follow this simple advice and chances are you’ll be on your way!  BTW, we highly recommend color-photocopying and laminating your driver license for these exact scenarios and never, ever, giving up your passport.  Worst case scenario, tell them to keep the (fake) license!