Camels in the Sahara

7 05 2020

We’d all been looking forward to being in the Sahara Desert – by far the biggest in the world. Riding camels, and seeing stars. We’d be spending the night at a glamping campsite on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. It’d been a long day on the road getting out there, across the arid steppe. But in the late afternoon, the dunes rose above the village of Merzouga.

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We were to ride camels into the desert and stick around until sunset. It was a really epic experience being out there. Not long after arriving at an auberge (lodge) we began suiting up for the ride.

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Aditi and Mohamed

We brought along minimal supplies such as water, cameras, and jackets for after sunset.

While we waited, a truck drove up to me and the driver asked me in French, “Where can we get water, is there a natural water source around here?” I was like, “Dude we are in the Sahara!” Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found our camels. They all seemed to know what was coming up.

 

Our guides assisted us getting into the saddle and getting the camel to stand up.

David gets his camel to rise! Well done! When the camel stands up, you’d better hang on! And trust the camel knows what it’s doing.

With everybody on their camels, it was time for a group shot before we set off.

Group on Camels crop

We entered the dunes in a “camel train,” with lines connecting each beast. Since they have done this thousands of times, the camels all know what to do. The sand seems bottomless, but the camels feet are quite wide and don’t sink in very much. Still, it’s a very bouncy ride, and when climbing, descending and turning on a dune, it’s pretty unsettling for a newbie like me! Add to that trying to take a photo!

Before long, the timeless view of the rusty colored desert in the late afternoon brings up awe and emotion. I’ll never forget the endless sea of dunes.

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We reached a spot where we could explore the dunes under our own power. There was something about the setting that made me just take in the wonder. How many millions of years have these sands been here, shifting, moving, changing shape.

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Once the sun set, we rode to our glamorous camping site. I’m used to roughing it, but this was something else! It had rooms with blankets and beds. A bathroom with flush toilet. But still, it had a spot with a campfire for music and conversation. Katie and I were hoping for a sea of stars. Instead, it was a full moon, which blocked out the sky for much of the night. I was able to rise an hour before dawn, just as the moon set. But I only got 20 minutes of Milky Way Galaxy viewing.

Dinner time with a toast!

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CHEERS! No shortage of wine tonight!

 

 

 

 

 





Metolius River, OR in October

28 01 2020
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Picture perfect from my campsite.

In late October 2019, two things converged: A couple of midweek days off, and a forecast of 70-degree sunny days for the Metolius River area. The Metolius River campgrounds stay open until mid December. With such a terrific forecast and time off, I scrambled to pack up one last time and get some more camping and river watching in!

The Metolius River valley and its Camp Sherman zip code are one of Oregon’s jewels. The river is super clean as it emerges as a fully grown river from a lava tube at the head of the valley. The valley is populated by orange-red barked Ponderosa Pine. And the Forest Service conducts regular “controlled burns” so that the underbrush never grows too high. The valley road winds along the river but also climbs to vistas of nearby Cascade peaks such as the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. This means that a drive to the campground immerses you in a lush, peaceful forest with a blue ribbon trout stream populated by hopeful fly fishers, punctuated by blue skies and snowy peaks.

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10,450 ft Mount Jefferson

70 degree days in late October in the Metolius area are not the norm, but they do occur often enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather in case they pop up. The area sits in a rain shadow just east of the Cascade crest. It’s guaranteed the campgrounds will be 50% empty. No reason for a reservation.

I found one of those picture perfect, lots-of-real-estate campsites with a magnificent view of the river. And not far from the rest room either!

Just behind my site, on the other side of the road, was somebody camping with some kind of tiny Airstream trailer. I set up my tent, put the pad, sleeping pad and pillows inside.

Then, I proceeded to set up the camp kitchen and the fire pit that is always a “reason to come camping.”

The valley sits in a north-south position. With a low ridge to the west and a higher, 800ft ridge on the east side.

 

I sat by the river and read my New York Times as the warmth set in. But as it was late October, I started to realize that the lower level of the sun meant an early sunset here.

 

The forecast for this area said nighttime low temperatures would be in the low 40’s. That was no problem for me. So, I brought my 32-degree down bag. This Mountain Hardwear 800-fill down bag has been terrific. It’s been warm even down to the mid 30’s.

With the sun setting and chill creeping in, I lit a campfire and hastily set about making dinner. By 7:30 p.m. it was mighty chilly and time to crawl into the sleeping bag.

With my sleeping bag zipped up, ski hat on my head and gloves, plus my two pillows, I was actually just fine sleeping through the night. In fact, I was quite surprised how comfy I felt. I looked forward to the 70-degree day following.

The next part isn’t so rosy. I went to bed at 7:30, so my 6:30 a.m. I was DONE with sleeping and very much wanted to get up and start the day. What I wasn’t expecting was while although it was light outside, the sun had not come up over the eastern side of the valley. And much of what was liquid last night was now frozen. The pump on the camp stove barely moved. It groaned and squeaked, as did I. The temperature was clearly below freezing and not the mid 40’s predicted. While I was fine tucked into my sleeping bag, outside I was in the discomfort zone, and the sun wasn’t anywhere near rising above the valley wall anytime soon! Worse, I could hear the radio coming from the tiny Airstream trailer just accoss the way. This is when I knew that for late season camping a trailer does have it merits!

I managed to pump up my stove and get a nice few cups of coffee going. Then, the fire. Still, I was a bit put off by the weather forecast. As the morning progressed, it wasn’t until 9:30 by the time the sun came up over the hill, warming everything up. So, I realized the actual maximum temperature was only a few fleeting hours today. Whilst beautiful, I decided to just head back home rather than endure another long morning! It wasn’t the night, it was the long cold morning that got to me. Nevertheless, the Metolius area is beautiful even in late fall. Perhaps a hotel night would do the trick!

 

 

 





Crawdads (Crayfish) at Timothy Lake

27 01 2020
Gone Creek dock morning

A glassy morning lakefront view.

Timothy Lake, about 12 miles south of Mount Hood, within 75 miles of Portland, has been my favorite quick getaway camping spot for years. While it can fill up on weekends, weekdays it is always possible to get a spot without a reservation.

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Happy Hour at the Picnic Table

In July 2019 I met up with my friends Laura, Jeff, Jason and Julie.

We stayed at Gone Creek Campground. This campground had just been given some enhancements by owner Portland General Electric. Enhancements included a new dock, more gravel for the roads, and new toilet facilities. Some of the campsites had been “leveled” with heavy machinery, and the results were not always improvements. For example, sometimes there were less tent sites than before!

It was beautiful weather. Just a few clouds and very comfortable. And no bugs to worry about.

Jason and Julie brought a tandem kayak. They also had crayfish traps, and later in the day, they went out and set the traps whilst Laura, Jeff and I started dinner preparations.

They set out a line of traps, with I think some raw chicken for bait. These were soaked maybe an hour or so.

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It only took that long for a nice haul of crawdads! Jason and Julie showed up with enough for all of us.

Raw Crawdads

These crayfish were at most 4″ long. Did you know there are crayfish in Tasmania as big as goliath lobsters!? That’s right. A Giant Tasmanian Crayfish can weigh as much as 13 lbs and 31″ long!

Cooking crawdads is a simple affair. Some seasoning like old bay, boiled or steamed. Then you just take the shell apart and eat. We had some hot sauce which went well. It’s work, but super fun!

Crawdads Cooked and ready

Each of us had a plate. Lots to go around!

Next time someone offers me a plate of crayfish I’ll accept for sure!

 

 

 

 





Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Hike Out and then Back to Pokhara

10 01 2019

Our string of wonderful mornings continued, with the Himalayas beyond our campsite bathed in early morning orange alpenglow. The weather was nice enough that we took our breakfast outside.

From Campsite to Road to Boutique Resort, An Extended Day

This day was going to be a LONG one. We’d hike out, walking through Ghandruk, a village, then down to a road at Syaulebhatti where we would meet some 4X4s which would ferry us along the rough roads down, to the Modi Khola river, then on “paved” roads to Pokhara. We’d have lunch at Phewa Lake in Pokhara, and then overnight in the very posh boutique Temple Tree Resort, which for us would be a first-class oasis following our trek! Due to my challenges with perspiration and clothes issues a hotel with some laundry opportunities was in my mind for a few days!

With Light Hearts We Say Goodbye to Guides, Kitchen Staff and Porters

Being our last day and hike out, it was time to thank and reward our trekking staff! Tips! On this trek we had more staff than any other I’d been a part of. About 45 staff total! That is because of the Nepalese steps. On my other treks, such as The Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan or The Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, horses, mules or Lamas carried the tents, duffel bags, kitchen equipment and so forth. But in this part of Nepal, with steps, only humans could navigate. So human porters carried these loads. On our days walking, the call of “Porters coming” was heard many times!

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Porters lined up and we gave each their tip individually.

It is a big deal. The evening prior, each of us put together our tip and gave that to Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann then spent time the night before preparing the tips for each group of staff – Porters, Kitchen Staff and Guides. Each group lined up and we doled out the tips one by one!

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Our deeply talented kitchen staff, and a couple of guides.

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Our world class guides, including Cathy Ann! OK the mountains behind are cute.

Then it was time to hike out. The trail, completely paved with stones and steps, wound right through the town of Ghandruk. Those folks have a beautiful view every day!

 

Leaving Ghandruk behind, we descended, finally dropping to a dirt road. A mile or two later we arrived at the point where we met up with our 4x4s which would ferry us to Pokhara.

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We had 3 4X4s, and I volunteered to take the spare seat in the lead Indian Jeep with Mingma and Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann and I are both susceptible to falling asleep with the rocking motions of trains and 4X4s, and we both succumbed to the motions!

The Annapurna area is one where tourists need visas to enter/exit, and these were prepared for us in advance of our trip. These seem to be surrendered on the way out. Here is my visa…

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I imagine the fees help fund the Conservation Area. Well, I hope! Looks to be about $30.

Off the Trail, the Realities of Nepalese Life Hit Hard

Being that we were in Nepal and that schedules melt away with the daily machinations, this day was no different. Along the bumpy road, we encountered a guy operating a piece of equipment which was re-leveling the road. There was no angry honking of horns. Instead, an understanding that this guy was doing his job and that we’d just have to patiently wait.

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And wait we did, for at least an hour whilst he went about his work leveling the road.

There was nothing to do but wait and allow him time to do his job.

But the traffic built. And built. And built. And built and built and built.

When he was ready to take his break, there were dozens of 4X4s and even buses ready to pass!

We passed within inches of vehicles going the other way.

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Behind us was a bus, and I wondered how they would negotiate passing all the 4X4s headed up hill.

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I’ve definitely been on more precarious roads. In Peru, one-vehicle only roads with a cliff face above and below, sometimes traveled underneath overhanging boulders…and many times we encountered trucks coming the other way, forcing us to back down to a spot wide enough to pass.

Nevertheless, these roads really need a 4×4 and make the Americans driving their often-blinged out shiny 4x4s seem absolutely ridiculous. Most of them never see anything beyond a trip to the soccer match!

Over the Top Opulence Well Deserved

In Pokhara we settled in at the Temple Tree Resort. It is a superbly beautiful oasis. Rooms are in smaller buildings sprinkled throughout the property. Opening the door of your room you see a verdant garden, through which you walk, and pass by a meandering swimming pool, fire pit and outdoor restaurant and bar. How wonderful!

Lunch by the Lake

I was part of the lead group to make it to a restaurant on Lake Phewa. With some time to spare I walked along the lakeside promenade. There, Indian and Nepalese tourists were enjoying boat rides on the lake.

Cute, right? These boats do need some upkeep!

Ah, the rest of the group shows up! Our group plus Migma and Sonam enjoy a sumptuous and well-deserved Indian-style lunch. YUM! All Aboard!

Bellies satisfied, we walked back to the Temple Tree Resort. This left us with about two hours before gathering for happy hour. For us guys, Don, Kevin and I, after 10 days trekking, the obvious choice was to fill the gap with pampering! For Don, Kevin and I, that meant something like a single edge shave, a hair cut, a beard trim, maybe a shoulder massage!

Continuing a Tradition

I have a tradition of getting a hair cut on overseas trips. In Thailand, or Bali, or Cambodia, of Bhutan, etc. Even if I am bald. So what! It’s fun getting a hair cut.

Only here, I got the total package. Hair cut, single blade shave, head massage, arm massage, shoulder massage.

This is my “Bollywood Shave” video in Bhutan…

And with no delay, Pokhara Nepal!

Shaves and hair cuts completed, the men were ready to head back to our resort and enjoy a happy hour and a supremely festive end-of-trek dinner! And indulge we did. What happened will just have to be part of our collective memories….hmmmm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Chomrong to Ghandruk

31 12 2018

We had an outside breakfast with glorious views of the mountains (see previous post). Whilst packing up before setting off, we were visited by a random water buffalo and its keeper. And, our porters packed up their enormous loads to carry on to Ghandruk, our last camp.

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Amee and Cathy Ann enjoying apples at a rest stop.

Today’s hike would find us once again climbing and descending steps, with terrific views, through hamlets, and then crossing a river followed by a steep forested trail to a mountain saddle where we’d have our lunch. Morning was fairly cool with passing clouds. Good for me, comfortable!

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This was the day my 10-year-old Vasque hiking boots finally showed their life was pretty much done. The soles, very worn, finally began to come off. These boots never gave me a blister. Never leaked. Stood by me. They did last one more hike out – even with the soles starting to come off!

Lunch was in a dining hall at a tea house atop the mountain saddle. They had some surprises for us. They made some perfect french fries! And a kind of “hamburger sandwich.” They baked their own buns. The sandwich was SPAM, mustard, cucumber and tomato. Completely scrumptious and unexpected! The soup was also incredible. And juice – I drank lots and lots of juice.

Following lunch we had a comparatively easy hike down to Ghandruk, which is at about 6,000′ elevation. Along the way we heard the delightful sounds of singing bells – which turned out to be probably 75 horses in a freight train across the valley!

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An empty freight train of horses

 

 

 

These trains of horses were commanded by a shepherd who would shout “left!” or “right!” in Nepalese and for those animals out of line, a strike with a wicket does the trick.

Our camping spot at Ghandruk was on a flat plateau, like the others, but with no tea house and shared with beasts of burden.

We arrived in advance of our porters, so we passed the time while we waited for them to catch up and set up our tents/kitchen/camp.

Just outside, there was some carpentry going on. This is an example of local woodworking tools.

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Mama water buffalo and calf

This spot was some kind of resting/gathering for various farm animals. There were more than a dozen water buffalo when we arrived. At one point, some signal told them it was time to go home. They all seemed to rise at once and go their separate ways. And just as suddenly, a group of horses, without any gear, showed up and took their place, using the loose dirt to roll around and relax.

Our staff started to make things for dinner. And we could eventually see the remaining porters across the valley, coming from the saddle where we had lunch. With our tents pitched, they set up the shower tent. This was great. One by one we took our turns in the shower. Amee and Uli hiked out to the nearby town – came back with some nice stuff like greeting cards.

This night’s dinner was our farewell extravaganza and the kitchen staff stepped it way up. For starters, they served homemade chicken soup with papadums and prawn crackers.  We had a heart-shaped fresh salad, roasted potatoes, ceremonial rice, broccoli, cauliflower, locally sourced green beans, roasted chicken (fried), beef with carrots, potatoes and vermicelli noodles, sushi, among many other things.  Dessert? A fruit salad in a spun caramelized sugar baseket, and a vanilla and chocolate marble cake. WOW.

Tomorrow morning would be our last trail breakfast! And time to tip the 40+ staff members, each and every one well deserving!

 

 

 

xx

 

 





Deurali to Chomrong, The Stairway to Heaven and Views A Plenty

23 12 2018
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Wow! A panoramic with Chomrong clinging to the slope, Annapurna South (23,680′), Hinchiuli (21,132′), Machapuchare, and our tents!

A Total Day’s Descent Means Lots of Climbing

Today’s hike would take us from 10,670′ down to 6,759′ but descent is not the whole story. For in between there would be some of the hardest climbs done in a day on this trek. We’d end the day back at Chomrong – where’d we’d been a few days prior. But this time, we’d be climbing two of the longest sets of stairs instead of descending them!

The day started cool and comfortable. It was partly cloudy, and I assumed the clouds would burn off, which they eventually did. Being a bit cooler was a real benefit. I used the drying technique again last night of sleeping with wet clothes in my sleeping bag – they were dry in the morning!

More In The Present Time

After one of the break stops, I found myself starting behind the group because I was talking with another hiker when the group just took off. Yet I wasn’t the last guest, as somehow it turned out Madeleine was behind. Before I even knew she was behind I just happily walked my own way and tuned in to the sounds of the Modi Khola River, the breeze and the birds. It was only when I heard Mingma calling from behind that I knew they were there!

2,000 Steps to End the Day

The most challenging steps of the day were our last. In mid afternoon, we rounded a bend to see across a valley to Chomrong. We’d climb steeply to cross the river via a suspension bridge, then ascend some 2,000 steps through the village to our lodge-side campsite. Once at the bottom of those steps, I dressed down to my T-shirt for the upcoming steps!

After much industry I make it up to camp maybe 30 seconds or so behind the main group. And after making home in my tent, Don and I headed to the restaurant for an early beer. And headed back after tea time….and we were joined by Uli, Kevin, and Annette for a couple of well deserved beers!

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Waiting to dig into breakfast.

The best views were in the morning. And those are featured on this blog post.