A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: cspelke

Spelke Travels Update #6 (July)

Walking on the roof of the world and finishing with the best islands on earth


View Spelke Travels on cspelke's travel map.

The Contents Highlights:
1. Nepal: a play-by-play of trekking to Annapurna Base Camp
2. Japan: playing in the user-friendly city of Tokyo and getting west for real culture
3. Hawaii: a beautiful wedding on the best island in good old U.S. of A.
4. Reflections: feeling good being home and looking back on the trip

1. Nepal: a play-by-play of trekking Nepal’s Annapurna Range (sorry for not taking the liberty of summing it up into one paragraph but every day was incredible in it’s own right)…

• Day 1) We’re finally doing what we came to Nepal to do, trekking awesome mountains! Pete and I spent our first two days in Nepal arranging everything to trek to Everest Base Camp, like we had planned all along but that 12-day route required a flight into one of the world’s highest runways at Lukla Airport. The timing of us being here during the monsoon season made it difficult to get a break in the cloudy weather at Lukla’s altitude so we decided rather than wait another day for the chance of a flight going through, let’s put our remaining 12 days toward Nepal’s second best trekking circuit because we knew it was a sure bet. The Annapurna Range makes up Nepal’s middle section of the Himalayas and is a step down in elevation from the Everest Base Camp hike (something I’m sure mom is happy about). Yesterday, we were happy to arrive in Nepal’s second largest city Pokhara after spending two and half days figuring things out in noisy Katmandu. We continued by car another hour and half this morning to the trailhead at a small “bus stop” village. Thank god for our guide, Dipak because the beginning of the “trail” was more like a connection of roads and footpaths through small villages—we would have been totally lost.

IMG_5234.jpg

The Nepalese charm began when dropping into the monsoon soaked valley of green rice fields stepping quickly away from a raging river with teahouses proudly streaming prayer flags. Today was the easy “warm-up” only going 4hrs and ascending just 1,500ft to our first teahouse/guesthouse in the mountain village of Tirkhedbunga. We enjoyed a delicious authentic dinner and had time to delve into our books before it got too dark. As I’m writing this before falling asleep for our big hiking day tomorrow, I can’t help but feel how happy and blessed I am to be able to be doing one of my dreams!

• Day 2) We had an early start for the tough Day 2 because we wanted to beat the heat by getting up to higher elevations before the 100% humidity worsened with an overhead sun. Luckily there wasn’t much break in the clouds and a constant drizzle kept us from overheating as we climbed thousands of stone steps that looked like they had been placed hundreds of years ago. Although the monsoon weather made today’s hike easier for warm-bodied Pete and I, it also robbed us of views of the snow-capped Himalayas. I’m a bit afraid being here in the middle of the monsoon season will leave us wondering of the amazing mountain views we could have seen in April or October but this is when our visit timed out during the trip. The nice thing about this season is the insane amount of people NOT here trekking. On our six-hour hike today we only saw one other group so it is very easy letting myself get lost in a hiking solitude of peace. It made the experience of climbing into lush jungle, over waterfalls and up into clouds all that much more enchanting. Overall we ascended 4,070ft today and it was pretty challenging but for our Nepalese Guide, Deepak it was a cakewalk. We joked that he invented the step and he amazed us that he would have to hike stone steps like we were on an hour and half up to school and an hour and half back every day (well almost everyday—in Nepal the kids go to school 6 days a week). No wonder he didn’t even break a sweat all day.
ED7152DA2219AC68175FBDC1AD4D6C3D.jpg
• Day 3) My brother woke me up very early this morning because the view out our room window showed a small break in the overcast skies to give a glimpse of Mt. Dhaulagiri—one of the 14 peaks in the world over 8,000 meters (26,240ft). It was a great way to start the day but the clouds we’re still socked in on our side of the valley so the typical hike up to the lookout point on Poon Hill was aborted. This was a special place for Pete because a little more than four years ago he was on the shorter trek by himself because I insisted he finish out the trip for us when I was home recovering from my accident that cost me my leg. He said when he made it to the top of Poon Hill, when the clouds broke for him that it was something spiritual. I’m so happy that he and I get to relive that original trip together because Nepal was the one that hurt the most missing out on. This time around we’ll even go a step further to Annapurna Base Camp! Other than the trails being muddy, today’s hike wasn’t too difficult and we saw one of the largest waterfalls of the area in full force. We made it to another small village called Tadapani in the afternoon. The shorter day gave us time to dry up around the wood-furnace with ginger tea and get lost in our books.

IMG_5308.jpg

• Day 4) A little later start this morning as it was a relatively shorter hike of 5hrs. The rain still hadn’t stopped and it made us realize that Nepal’s monsoons really aren’t messing around. The other nice little bonus that comes with all the rain is leaches. If you stop walking for even a couple of minutes you are bound to have one crawling up your shoe in search for an artery to bite into. At first they freak you out but then get use to them like mosquitos, they’re not dangerous unless you consider bleeding a bit after they’re done feeding on you dangerous.

IMG_5331.jpg

We did get a bit of a break from the rain in the afternoon that teased some amazing views of the green mid-mountains. Hoping tomorrow clears the other side of the valley so we can get another glimpse or two of the white-capped monsters. We crossed over some very cool suspension bridges today that reminded us of the bridges we helped build in Rwanda. What an amazing trip this has been and what an awesome way to wind it down!

• Day 5) We awoke from our cute little guesthouse in Chomrong with good views of the green-walled valley we would later hike through. Since Chomrong is the main village on the way back down, we were thankful to leave some stuff that cut 2-3kilos off our heavy 13kilo backpacks. It made a huge difference with the steep down and ups we had on our 6.5hr hike today and it will help for the difficult final ascent. It was a long one today but we had good breaks at small teahouses, villages and family farms. It was great seeing these humble Nepalese families of 5+ be so welcoming to travelers, always greeting with a friendly “Namaste” and showing a happy smile. They all seem to work so well together, making the best use of their steep and soil-rich land of a few acres.

IMG_5403.jpg

They let their animals (i.e. chickens, goats, buffaloes, cats, and dogs) roam around freely making for a fun experience sharing the trail. It was one of the wetter days with heavier rain in the afternoon so I was happy to have my first warm shower when getting to our guesthouse in the tiny town of Himalaya. The evening concluded with a few other trekkers and their guides having great conversations around a large table heated underneath by a kerosene lantern. Praying for clearer weather tomorrow for Annapurna Base Camp!

• Day 6) God answered my prayers! The day started out cloudy and rainy as all the others but as we ascended further out of the jungle it started to clear. The rain stopped and the dense clouds dissipated to show the most amazing glacier carved valley invested with 500ft+ waterfalls. The hike took us along the centered raging river and over the many rivers that fed it more runoff. We had to climb 3,970ft today to reach Annapurna Base Camp and it wasn’t till the final 1,000ft that we all started feeling a bit funny from altitude. I would compare it to being laughy drunk.

IMG_2339.jpg

It was absolutely incredible when we finally reached Base Camp because it magically became the clearest we have experienced in the last 10 days being in Nepal and it just happen so we could be in awe of the place we anticipated and worked so hard to get to. Everywhere you looked from the Base Camp of 13,500ft you saw mountains anywhere from 18,000ft to 26,500ft (Annapurna I). We sat on a rock just being amazed for a good hour before checking into the one open guesthouse a couple hundred meters further. I couldn’t have asked for a better final day getting to our goal- simply incredible!
large_IMG_2351.jpg
• Day 7) It’s worth spending the night at Base Camp and fighting off the effects of altitude because you have more chances to see the magical bowl of frosty peaks as they light from first day break. Our guide waked us up at 5am so we could see clear views of the unreal Himalayas towering over us. After the morning spectacle we started our 4-day descent. Even though we were backtracking down the same trail, it was much different especially having sections of sunlight glisten the freshly soaked valley. We gained ground with gravity on our side and were able to make it two villages past the one we stayed at on the way up. We settled in at the Bamboo Village Guest House and fell asleep almost immediately after—it was an exhausting two days of going up and down a total of 9,300ft of elevation change.
IMG_5563.jpg
• Day 8) Today was a lot of steep downhill and it did a number on my prosthetic as it isn’t designed for uneven constant downhill travel. We took some good rests and were rewarded with a soak in some natural hotsprings at the end of the day’s trek. The food at the teahouses was also a treat—it seems that the food gets better the closer to civilization you get here. Its nice knowing things should start flattening out for the final days of the trek.

IMG_5639.jpg

• Day 9) It was our first day to sleep in because it was only a 4 hour hike downhill so we took advantage and got going around 9:30am. Although it was probably one of our easiest days of hiking, both Pete and I’s legs are shot and even gradual downhill is getting to be a struggle. It was a very enjoyable hike following the river and going through friendly villages and farms. At one I even had a crowd watching me adjust my prosthetic leg. Our guide translated their curiosity. I couldn’t help but think walking through these villages today how peaceful these Nepalese farmer’s lives are: working on the beautiful land, greeting/hosting the occasional travel but I’m surprised that most Nepalese believe a better life awaits them in America or Europe according to what our Guide explained to us. He says that many people/families apply for visas every year hoping they’ll be the lucky ones to start new lives in the Western world. I feel a bit ignorant only seeing the surface of their daily lives but I feel that Westerners have a lot to learn from their culture and even some aspects that are probably desired. To live simply live off this beautiful land appears so peaceful away from the complexities and negative consequences of materialism. Each of the families we saw today seem so rich in bondage because of the land and place that ties them together—I feel this is something that is hard to find in today’s Western world.

• Day 10) Our last guesthouse sat in the middle of an intricate set of rice patties and close to the river that we had been following almost the entire decent. We had an early breakfast and continued along the easy-going trail to a recently built road that made the finish to our trek a relaxing walk through small villages and large rice patty farms. The only obstacle was a huge rockslide that covered the entire road and made for a fun climb over. We made it down to Pokhara later that afternoon, plenty of time to have a celebratory drink and dinner with our awesome guide!

2. It was a rough two days of flights, sleeping in airports and redeyes to get to Tokyo. We were more than happy to meet our friend Kacy and her mom at the “capsule” hostel we booked for the weekend in Tokyo. Real estate is scarce in Japan (especially Tokyo) so it makes accommodation very expensive and space efficiently compact. The 8-person dormitory Pete and I slept in crammed these futuristic capsules next to and on top of each other. It definitely was a different experience crawling into your own spaceship-looking box at night- set with a pullback curtain, shelf, light and personal TV. The area we stayed in Tokyo was called the Asakusa District and is famous for the Senso-ji Temple.

IMG_5744.jpg

To get to it you have to swim your way through the tourist infested Hozomon Gate and one of the oldest markets in Japan, spanning 250 meters to the entrance of the temple. It is a pilgrimage site because it holds the statue of the Buddist Goddess of Mercy. We had a great day wondering Tokyo’s more central districts starting with a water-taxi ride to the port that is known for the world’s busiest fish market. Every morning huge tuna are auctioned off for anywhere upward of a $1 million dollars. To see it you have to get there incredibly early, we just wanted to go there for an awesome sushi lunch and see the aftermath of the morning hustle. Although I can honestly say it was the best sushi of my life, it was also the most expensive sushi I’ve ever had ($100 for 2 people).

IMG_5727.jpg

After filling up on tuna and unknown sashimi we made our way to the central business district to get a look at the Central Palace. We found an elevated look over the walls from the 27th floor of the neighboring mall/office building. Then we headed down to the subway to discover the elaborate underground world of Tokyo. You could find everything from a bakery or bar to a jewelry or grocery store in the channels leading to and from the stations. Tokyo has the most extensive and elaborate subway system I’ve ever seen but also one of the most convenient and easy to use. It seemed like everyone and their mom uses it though because during rush hour the Shibuya Station was far crazier than Grand Central Station at peak time. We allotted a few days to get the real Japanese culture in the old capital of Kyoto. Even though it was an expensive way to get there from Tokyo, we couldn’t resist riding the “bullet train” because magnets send it speeding west around 200mph. It only took us 2.5hrs to get there versus the miserable 8.5hr overnight bus ride back. Kyoto was simply amazing. A very peaceful culture where people were nicer than the big city and everyone just seemed content with whatever they were carefully doing. It was so much fun biking trough all the quiet narrow streets finding our way to one amazing temple or shine after another.

IMG_5896.jpg

We stayed at the cutest Japanese style hostel where we slept on bamboo matts with futon mattresses and even were treated to a dinner party full of saki and Japanese pancakes filled with eel and veggies. For our last day, Pete and I did a day trip to the original capital Nara. It still remains the country’s spiritual capital, home to the Great Buddha and many other important temples. Wild deer greeted us on our way to the Tōdai-ji Temple that houses the Great Buddha.

IMG_6092.jpg

Deer are sacred in the many gardens and forests surrounding Nara because they are believed to be carriers of sacred messages from Gods and Goddesses. Their centuries of peaceful coexistence have made them very social and friendly creatures. At the gate guarding the Tōdai-ji, are the massive wooden statues called the Niō guardians. They represent fear and desire and stand as a symbol for what needs to be left behind as you enter the sacred place of the Buddha.

IMG_6108.jpg

As you approach the main hall (Daibutsu) you can’t help but respect it’s architectural marvel as the largest wooden building in the world. Contained within the high-vaulted structure is the Great Buddha: one of the largest bronze figures on earth and originally cast in 746. It’s over 50ft high and consists of 437 tons of bronze and 130kg of gold. Seeing this in was the perfect way to conclude peaceful and impressive Japan. Never have I experienced a culture so collectively intelligent, intricate and content with life.

3. Pete and I were so happy to see the sign “Welcome to the United States” when we walked through U.S. Customs at Honolulu International Airport. It had been almost 7 months since we’d been on U.S. soil and couldn’t be happier having a reunion with our girlfriends and all our good friends in Hawaii of all places! We had planned the trip to end at our very dear friend’s wedding on the North Shore of Hawaii. It was our first time being on these gorgeous islands and a bit overwhelming jumping right back into American culture being with all our crazy friends at a ridiculously fun wedding. We took a week after the wedding to recover and relax with the girls on Waikiki Beach. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to fly home after being in paradise.
IMG_6268.jpg

4. I’ve been home a month now slowly adjusting back to life in Colorado. I think of the person I was before I left 8 months ago and the much happier person I am now. I know traveling doesn’t have the same effect on everyone but for me it was a time I could truly find myself appreciating the present moment and get back to enjoying the simple things in life (i.e. working with my hands, sipping on a café, or enjoying a conversation with a complete stranger). I was so caught up in the rush of the American lifestyle before I left that I had a hard time listening to my heart and giving it the healing it deserved. I realize I’m very fortunate because not many people can take off and travel the world for 7 months to get their mind and soul right again. But there are many Americans who have the means to do such a thing and instead replace a potential unforgettable experience with material possessions. Even though Americans are financially better positioned to travel than most citizens of the world, the majority are help back with the anxiety that they’ll “fall back” and be that much further from their American dream (i.e. solid career, house, car, kids, etc…). That anxiety crept up on me but I realize that life is short and long—we shouldn’t sacrifice our current, every-day happiness for the thought of a future reward of happiness. Not much has changed here in 8 months but a lot has changed in me. Every person I met along the way, unique culture experienced, and each diverse place has touched my heart in some special way. The world is so intricate and quickly evolving but the greatest lesson learned from being so many different places and seeing many different kinds of people are the values we all have in common as human beings: having a home (physically and/or in your heart) filled with loved ones who take care of you and you can take care of is the most important for genuine human nature and happiness. I was so very lucky to be experiencing this trip with my twin brother who brought a piece of that home with me everywhere we went but we both hit a point on the trip where being home with those loved ones seemed like the only thing we wanted and that no one place in the world could be more desirable to be than that! I don’t know if it’s more that simple realization or the collection of wonderful experiences abroad that has put me in such a good place here. I do know there is no place like Denver, Colorado and to me it is the best place on earth. There is so much to be done in the world but without your spirit and mind being in a solid comfortable place, your influence to do positive change will never reach its full potential. I can truly say I’m back to that healthy place and couldn’t be more excited to bring about my positive influence on the wonderful and challenging world around me!

Wishing All the Very Best to You and Yours,

Chris Spelke

“When an uncontrolled event happens to you and you’re faced with a decision to either react negatively or positively, knowing that either energy reciprocates on itself and that life is short, why wouldn’t you react positively?”
-Christopher Spelke ☺

Posted by cspelke 11:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Spelke Travels Update #5 (June)

Love for the Eastern Bloc and finishing Europe where its history all started

The Contents Highlights:
1. Poland: having fun in wild cities followed by a shot of cold history
2. Budapest/Bratislava: happy going off the original plan
3. Vienna: being amazed at the beauty of the artsy city of Austria
4. Bavaria: Hitler’s hide-away, Munich, and more castles
5. Greece: Island hopping while getting in some quality family time

1) The road trip continued with the fun guys we picked up in Riga, Latvia. We all had our hearts set on spending the most time in Poland’s best city, Krakow. But we had to break up the 9hr drive with a quick stop/night out in the capital Warsaw. Even though we all had a blast, it is safe to say Krakow takes the cake on nightlife in Poland! Krakow also has a rich history with an incredible old town that escaped destruction in WWII. The city is packed with attractive historic buildings and timeless streetscapes! The Jewish area, just outside the old town reminds of a different past with genocide memorials, the site of the old Jewish Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory (famous for Spielberg’s touching movie, Schindler’s List). It was crazy watching the movie the night before going on a tour of the famous Factory and the Ghetto—feeling the not so distant past and remembering horrible things the Nazi’s did to the Polish Jews. The depressing theme only continued the next day with our trip to Auschwitz on the way to Budapest (now just Peter and I heading south). Even though you go into something you know is going to be hard to take in, nothing could have prepared me for Auschwitz. Our tour guide grew up in a Polish town nearby and was very passionate and direct in her presentation of both camps.

IMG_1638.jpg

She wasted no time in getting to the tough stuff like the torture bunker, the process and astonishing numbers of those gassed/cremated, and the rooms full of prisoners belongings left behind by the Nazis. I got pretty choked up seeing all the prosthetics and kids shoes displayed behind glass walls. It was a hard way to conclude our week in Poland but it was one of those things you learned growing up that is hard to believe and seeing first hand truly makes you appreciate living in a place and time of relative peace.

2) We originally planned on going right to Bratislava, Slovakia for the next few days but changed our plans when every traveler we talked to said Budapest was worth going out of the way for. Happy we listened because ‘Buda’ (hill) ‘Pest’ (west bank) was an extraordinary city situated on a beautiful hill and luscious river valley. Literally all roads lead to Budapest and with them come most of the influential Hungarians. This political and cultural center rivals the beauty and infrastructure of any Western European City without the higher prices and snooty attitudes. We practically biked around the entire city in one day, seeing the view from Castle Hill and all the important parliament buildings/cathedrals on the ‘Pest’ side. We finished the day soaking our strained muscles in the famous thermal baths surrounded by art nouveau architecture. We stopped for lunch in Bratislava on our way to Vienna to pay tribute to our original plans but we were happy we only did lunch—not nearly as charming as Budapest but not as bad as they showed it to be in the movie Eurotrip.

IMG_4156.jpg

3) Wow Vienna. I would have never imagined the capital of Austria would become one of my favorites cities in the world but in only two days there I can say that. It’s hard to put my finger on any one thing that made it so great but the few that stand out besides its overall beauty and vibrancy, feel something like this: old-trams buzzing by in place of smelly cars, people politely ringing their bells as they pass you on the perfect street bike paths, couples playing with their dogs in an amazing mulch-covered doggy park, artists leisurely drawing a beautiful sculpture in one of the many parks, an orchestra of three playing the theme of James Bond in a pedestrian square, people soaking up the sun on happy hour overlooking the river…We also took the time and effort to hike the 363 steps of the Stephansdom Cathedral that rewarded us with amazing central views of the expansive City.

IMG_4218.jpg

The Gothic interior was equally impressive because of the unique stained glass, giving a truly spiritual ambiance.

IMG_1735.jpg

We finished the day’s enjoyable experience bbq’n out with new friends at the hostel, enjoying Vienna sausages and beer! The next day we found ourselves with another full car headed for Munich and with another side excursion insisted by moi. We would have stayed another day to see Austria play Sweden for the World Cup qualifier but we had a set date to drop the car off in Munich—I’ll surely be back to Vienna one day!

4) The nice Canadians we met were more than happy stopping at the famous Eagles Nest that Pete and I had read about. This last hide out of Hitler’s was given to him for his 50th birthday and still remains high on a Bavarian mountaintop. It took 11 years, 5,000 men, and ungodly amounts of German money to build the impressive complex. A bus took us whipping around a well-built but hairy mountain road and dropped us off to a tunnel leading a couple hundred feet in the side of a mountain where an elevator, built of red leather seats and gold-encasing mirrors swiftly lifted us over 400ft to a stone fortress.

IMG_4283.jpg

We snapped a few pics overlooking the gorgeous Bavarian countryside and got on our way to Munich. We checked in late to our lively hostel and but still had time to find one of the better beer gardens for dinner. It’s crazy how many people pack into these outdoor beer/food halls and it was impressive that everyone had at least a half-liter of beer in their hands. We had a wonderful German friend show us all the good sites around town explaining all the historical significance and good luck charms- I will forever be lucky and prosperous if the legend of the Lions hold true! Of course we had to finish the touristy day with a beer at the famous (and gigantic) Hofbräuhaus. We also did a day trip to what looked like the true Walt Disney Castle. It sits up against the Bavarian Alps and has a great hiking route that grants you amazing views back down to the Castle and the countryside.

IMG_1803.jpg

I finished the trip in Munich with a visit to the worlds largest Science and Technology Museum called Deutches Museum. There was way too much to see but my personal highlights were an awesome prosthetic leg in the Robotics section, learning a ton on tunnel construction with their actual size exhibit, and geeking-out in the renewable energy and green living exhibit! Pete and I were happy with our successful Euro road trip and were more than excited to continue the adventure with our Mom in Greece!

5) There’s no better way to finish a perfect European trip then to go where it all started. After a pleasant reunion with our mom in the Athens airport we flew down to Greece’s most easterly island of Rhodes. Rhodes Town takes the cake for the most impressive, intact and picturesque ancient old-town in Europe. We spent most of our time getting lost in its maze of narrow cobblestone streets and navigating its fortress walls by bike. Since it was pretty affordable to rent a car we decided to make a day trip exploring the rest of the island. The Acropolis overlooking the peninsula town of Lindos was very cool but our random stop at a lonely monastery on the way was even more memorable. A Greek orthodox priest talked to us for over an hour about everything you can imagine—it was quite the unique cultural experience. The next island deserved every bit of the 5 days we were there. Crete was so big we had to focus on visiting the highlights of the west part of Greece’s largest island. The first night was spent in our own little camper permanently parked next to an empty beachfront. Our little rental car did well hugging the cliff face turns as we made our way down the Western coast road, giving us access to enjoy the famous beaches of Falasarna and Elafonisi.

IMG_4674.jpg

We stayed the a night in the cute fishing town of Paleohora so we could catch the early morning ferry to drop us at the trail head of the lower part of the Samaria Gorge (Greece’s largest & deepest canyon). There’s a section of this trail called the “Iron Gate” where the deep canyon walls come within a few meters of each other. It was a rewarding hike but it was nice to cool off and relax in the beach town of Rourmeli that is only accessed by the Samaria Gorge trail and/or by the ferry we came in on and left with. IMG_2016.jpg We capped off our Crete experience with a visit to the ruins at Knossos and a night in the busy capital, Heraklion. It was impressive to see the remains of the first plumbing systems the Minoan civilization built around 27th century BC and even more so was the detailed and well preserved artifacts on display at the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion (i.e. jewelry, weapons, mosaics). Santorini was island number three and what a weekend we had staying in the classic Greek white & blue town of Oia. The manager of our hotel invited us to join her for a traditional Greek meal with the owner of a sailing excursion company and his boat Captain. By the time the 3hr dinner wrapped up we had ourselves a free day trip on a catamaran sailboat the following day. It was an amazing way to see the collapsed caldera island of Santorini. Captain Nick showed me the ropes, let me guide the boat and even put me to work on the sails to earn my keep.

IMG_2051.jpg

Mom got in her snorkel time and we swam in the sulfur hot springs in the center of the caldera to top off a perfect day out on the water.
IMG_4928.jpg
The next island was a quick 2-day stop in Paros but we took in the family style charm of this relatively cheap island in the Cyclades. The island hopping finished with a bang in wild and beautiful Mykonos! It worked out pretty perfect because my mom found us a great little family-run guesthouse with a quiet beach for her and stumbling distance to the lively Paradise Beach for Pete and I. It was a good mix of fun and relaxation and Pete even got in some kite boarding before we had to take the long ferry back to Athens. We of course hiked up to the Acropolis and saw the famous Pantheon when we were in the country’s capital. We took in the panoramic views from one of the most important ancient monuments in the Western world after discovering the eclectic flea market downtown.

IMG_5129.jpg

We fit in a lot in 20 days and all agreed the Greeks are what make Greece so great! Sure they have amazing history, beaches, and food on their side but the charm of all the strong Greek personalities we met along the way taught us that family is what makes you rich in life and when you’re in Greece you’re treated like family!

 July: Nepal, Japan
 End July: Hawaii (a good friend’s wedding)
 August: Home sweet home!!!

The bro and I just finished our trekking in Nepal and I’m working up a play-by-play for you all right now but the main take away is we’re both healthy and still in one piece. After a week in Japan we’ll be State side and I’m getting real excited to come home and share these adventures in person with many of you!

Happy belated 4th of July- remember freedom ain’t free ☺

Chris

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.” -Goethe

Posted by cspelke 22:29 Comments (1)

Spelke Travels Update #4 (May)

Innovative Scandinavians and going behind the iron curtain

The Contents Highlights:
1. Copenhagen: seeing the city by bike and ship while getting to know a revitalized neighborhood
2. Sweden: a week in the dynamic south and passing through the barren north
3. Finland: a great stereotypical weekend in the cold north and discovering overrated Helsinki
4. St. Petersburg: just a nice little stop on a cruise in the Baltic Sea
5. The Baltic Countries: road-trippin through Estonia, Latvia, & Lithuania

1) Last time I left you we were finishing up an amazing 10 days in Germany. We stocked up on groceries in Lübeck, German before taking the ferry across to expensive Scandinavia. Our introduction to these thriving European countries was via Copenhagen and what a great place to start. We had a great centrally located hostel that encouraged using their bikes to get around town and with good reason—Copenhagen’s downtown biking network rivals that of Amsterdam and was by far the best we’ve seen on this trip.

IMG_3432.jpg

There were easily more bikes parked around town then cars. We also gave into a touristy canal boat tour to see a city interwoven by sea, river, and canals—it was a wonderful way to learn about the different neighborhoods that collectively make up the Danish capital.
IMG_2103.jpg
One particular urban neighborhood called Christiania had a pretty unique revival story: in the 1970’s the area was a deselect military base that welcomed a flood of squatters (people living in abandon buildings). After failed attempts to revitalize, the local government gave into the idea of free workforce and communal housing that fueled the already thriving hippie movement going on in the neighborhood. That night Peter and I caught a Blues show at the famous Christiania Loppen Theater and chatted with some locals to get a true sense of what is was all about. I was happy to experience first hand how a neighborhood could become such a special place with just common people wrapping around a revolutionary idea to an open-minded community.
large_IMG_3456.jpg

2) The next day we took the large bridge over to Sweden from Demark and I convinced my brother to make a pit stop in the city just on the other side called Malmo. This growing city is Sweden’s second largest and is home to one of the most sustainable neighborhoods in the world. When I was working with the Denver Housing Authority, doing sustainable development I had the opportunity to learn about best practices in the industry while working on some great projects of our own. I was granted the opportunity to go to the Eco-District Summit in Portland, OR last year and saw a presentation on the redevelopment of Malmo’s Western Harbor and was blow away by the kinds of sustainable measures they were able to achieve, so naturally I had to see it for myself! Since I don’t want to bore all of you who aren’t as dorky as I am when it comes to development, I’ll give you the cliff notes…60 acres of an old run-down industrial harbor redeveloped into a net-zero (all buildings consume and produce enough energy to not tap into the grid over an annual period) 1,300 unit mixed-use (residential + commercial) project that incorporates a district-wide thermalmass storage system (for heating and cooling) and uses an open storm-water network that feeds rich bio-diversity to naturally clean the water before emptying into the harbor.

IMG_3467.jpg

The community was rich in parks and bike trails and created a great mind-set about being green on the individual level. After a night and day of me geeking-out, we headed for Stockholm. The expensive Stockholm wasn’t all we cracked it up to be but we did manage to meet with some locals that were friends of friends and they did a great job showing us around. I would say the highlight was the Vasa Museum. It was one of the most impressive museums we’ve seen in Europe because they reconstructed a 17th century merchant ship almost entirely out of the wreckage preserved in Stockholm’s muddy harbor.

IMG_3523.jpg

On her maiden voyage in 1628, the great Vasa sank just 1,300 meters off the dock because it was built too top-heavy. Centuries later and multiple efforts pieced back together this 226ft behemoth of a ship, making it one of archeology’s greatest feats. We continued the road trip north, driving through a very different forested and rural Sweden. We had to find a midway point to our destination in Finland and chose Umeà, Sweden because you could sleep in a hostel that is an old remodeled prison—fun staying in your own private cell knowing you can leave anytime you want. We also had to stop at a random IKEA to eat some Swedish meatballs before crossing the boarder into Finland.

3) When my brother and I were Zanzibar, Tanzania we met a very sweet Finish couple that were more than happy to host us when we came through Northern Finland. We are so happy we met them because they showed us an amazingly authentic Finnish weekend. They put us up in a cozy cottage house right on the coast of the cold Baltic Sea. After eating homemade elk meatballs we followed them out to feed the fires that heated the hot tub and sauna. Pete helped stir up the homemade hot tub- it was really something else.

IMG_3556.jpg

We stayed up all night (really it was light all “night” being that far North in May) talking about the differences of the “southerners” and our two unique cultures. We learned how a relatively small country can be so different from one end to the other and were amused at the many ways they keep from boredom in the winter. It was hard going south to Helsinki after getting spoiled in the North especially because the Capital is pretty bland and didn’t have much character. We did take advantage of the World Hockey Championship that came through Helsinki and supported good old USA against Slovakia. There were few American fans to the thousands of Slovakians that came out to support their underdog team.

IMG_3598.jpg

The Scandinavia trek ended with a ferryboat ride across to Tallinn, Estonia with the car and I remember thinking as we left the harbor, no wonder why so many Scandinavia’s travel: they have great working social governments with safe, healthy and educated communities but for most of the year there are many other places in the world that must be more fun. Some of the best people we’ve met on our travels were Scandinavians finding fun far from their homes.

4) The gorgeous and well-preserved old city of Tallinn became our home base for our excursion over to St. Petersburg, Russia. It is difficult and expensive to get a visa for mother Russia but there is one loophole we took advantage of. By taking a “cruise” on a massive ferryboat you can get a pass to enter and exit without having a visa as long as your trip is less than 72 hours. Even after the overnight cruises from and to Tallinn we still had enough time to visit a lot of the city Peter the Great built. I was surprised to see blight (run-down buildings) in many of the downtown neighborhoods despite the City being Russia’s gem but it all had a unique charm about it. It was like a European splash over traditional Soviet simplicity that was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The huge River Neva nits all the important structures together and is connected by a series of impressive 18th century bridges.

IMG_3678.jpg

The Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood is probably the most notable structure with it’s brightly colored multiple domes and Peter & Pauls Fortress/Cathedral where all the tsars are buried was equally remarkable but only the Louve in Paris could beat St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum. Set in the royal Winter Palace, the museum shows many of the original rooms and collections of the Royal Families and holds some of the best 17th-19 century art (take a look at more photo’s in my travel blog’s library). Overall we enjoyed our quick exertion to Russia and I must say it did make me appreciate living in a place where people smile at you, are genuinely friendly and willing to help because it seemed like almost everyone there was sad and cold…maybe they’re still hung-over from communism.

5) Estonia was a good start to our exploration of the Baltic countries because we got a taste of both a historic and thriving capital (Tallinn) and the countryside. We took a day trip to the Lahema National Park that had amazing bike trails that took you through lush pine forest, the Baltic Sea coastline, and daisy-filled open meadows.

IMG_3777.jpg

We cooled down with a round of mini-golf at one of the coolest courses we’d ever seen. Each hole represented and explained a landmark in any of the three Baltic Countries. The next stop on the road trip was Riga, Latvia and I can safely say this became one of our favorite cities in the world. It helped that we were there for a beer festival and the weather was awesome but everything was cheap, people were so friendly, the cobble stone old town was a delight, food was amazing, and the nights weren’t boring at all! I also fell in love with the art nouveau architecture that the city is famous for (see more in the photo gallery) IMG_3856.jpg
We met a crazy Irishman and a wild Aussie at our lively hostel and let them hop in the car because we were all headed to Vilnius, Lithuania anyway. The one condition was they had to come checkout the Curonian Spit just off the Western coast of Lithuania before we headed to the capital of the largest Baltic state. The long thin sliver of an island is owned half by Lithuania and half by Prussia. It has one of the best bike trails we’ve rode on in Europe and large sand dunes that look out over the Baltic Sea.

IMG_3904.jpg

After out quick nature fix we jumped right back into the excitement of another happening old town/city (Vilnius). We stayed at a great hostel with smart, edgy travelers willing to start up a conversation about anything and locals who worked there that were very knowledgeable on what is worth seeing. One directed us to see the intense Museum of Genocide Victims. All the Baltic countries had some form of occupation museum that told the story of the oppression each faced when the Soviets and Nazi Germany took away their independence. Each is equally atrocious but the Lithuanians had it a bit tougher with almost all of their 120,000 men of the resistance army being wiped out by the Soviets. The Baltic Countries stayed under the USSR regime from 1940 to 1990 when their autonomy was finally given back. One of the most amazing peaceful demonstrations leading up to this point was called the Baltic chain where over 2 million people joined hands to link Tallinn to Vilnius as a way to express their desire for freedom from Soviet rule. This last Baltic country had a special place in our traveling hearts because it was where our great grandfather came over from in the mid-1800’s and although it was such a beautiful country with wonderful people I’m happy the Spelke’s escaped the turbulent history that followed shortly after that time period. We headed south from Vilnius with a full car and before dropping into Poland stopped to see a proper castle surrounded by moat and all.
IMG_3949.jpg

Pete and I are currently getting some quality time with the Mama in Greece and I can’t wait to share with you our amazing June finishing up Europe.

• June: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Munich
• Mid-June: Greece (with the mommy)
• July: Nepal (Everest Base Camp), Japan
• End July: Hawaii (a good friend’s wedding)

Less than two months before we’re home sweet home. Hope your summers are going well and you’re not missing us too much.

Cheers,

Chris

“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Jalaluddin Rumi

Posted by cspelke 00:27 Comments (0)

Spelke Travels Update #3 (March & April)

Exploring the great pearl of Africa (Uganda) and cruising through the Iberian Peninsula

I know it has been awhile since you’ve seen an update and I’m sure you’ve been dying to read my long email of our condensed Spelke adventures. I apologize for the delay but once we hit Europe in April, life really sped up (in a good way) and limited my time to reflect on the past travels but now you get two updates in one…enjoy!

The Contents Highlights:
1) Mt. Sabinyo – hiking an inactive volcano that divides Rwanda, Uganda, & DRC
2) Lake Bunyonyi – wooden canoeing to an island sanctuary
3) White Water Rafting & Kayaking the Nile Headwaters
4) Global Livingston Institute – seeing the best and worst of compact Kampala
5) Uganda Wildlife Edu Center – spending the night in a zoo doing what the Keepers do
6) Start to Europe road trip – bringing spring to southern Europe with the girls

1) A great way to close out our wonderful month in Rwanda was to hike one of the mighty Virunga Mountains- separating the country from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Our friend Christina, the person responsible for our delightful stay in Kigali drove us to our basecamp in Uganda. Crossing the border from Rwanda, we automatically felt how much more lax things were in Uganda—from the infrastructure, government influence/rules to the people and culture. We followed another CU Engineer Grad (Max) to the hostel he had made his extended home in the small town of Kisoro, Uganda (our basecamp for the next couple days). We left very early the next day to the base of the inactive volcano, Mt. Sabinyo. Our many guides and soldiers gave us a briefing that the only risk is wild animals. We started the hike at 7,754ft right as the sun broke the horizon. The hike made a gradual ascent through bamboo forest and swamplands until hitting thick rainforest. The trail became more and more steep as we made our way to the ridgeline. There were a series of wooden latters to climb the steepest parts of three challenging peaks standing in the way of summit. IMG_1188.jpg After 6hrs we reached the summit of Mt. Sabinyo Peak (11,920ft) and happy we did because an intense rainstorm rolled in right as we made our descent back down along the ridge (not too pleasant). With my difficulty coming down hill combined with slippery trails made the hike back a grueling 6hrs. The last bit was in the dark and good thing for our armed soldiers then because the African buffalo and elephant become more active during the night hence, greater risk of getting trampled. We took the next day to hang around the hostel and learn more about what Max was doing in Kisoro. It turns out that this area has a lot of pumice rock because of the millions of years of volcanic activity. The light volcanic stone is an amazing insulator and makes the commercial wood-burning stoves he designs and builds incredibly efficient compared to conventional stoves used heavily in developing countries. So much so that he has been able to obtain carbon-credits for the amount of CO2 not emitted with the ~80% less wood burned when cooking with his stoves- pretty cool stuff!
IMG_1227.jpg

2) Another beautiful area in southern Uganda is the farms and hills rolling down into the many fingers of Lake Bunyoni. Pete and I had heard of this amazing little island you could stay on for cheap. The best part was getting there by a hollowed-out wooden canoe. We took down the directions and headed out with all our gear for the place called “Booya Amagara”. Our days of canoe camp came back to us and we managed to make it there without doing the infamous “muzungu circles” that locals like to joke about when travelers go around for hours not being able to manage the canoe or find where they need to go.

IMG_1202.jpg

We parked our canoe on the island’s dock after an hour of paddling and were escorted to our very own “eco-dome” hut that was constructed with straw and bamboo triangles in a geodesic dome format. The place had great food served by candlelight at night and made for a relaxing atmosphere by day. We went in search of a good hike by canoe, looking for a trailhead on the mainland. We instead landed on a local farmer’s land who was kind enough to show us to the top of the peninsula. The bluff above his mud hut had great views of the lake and it’s many islands. IMG_1197.jpg
We left early the following day to catch our bus to Kampala but canoeing back before dawn made it difficult to navigate where we were going. As the light burned off the haze we got ourselves back on track but definitely tested our sense of direction for the first 45 minutes on the lake (pretty much I was right and Pete was wrong- ha).

3) Rafting the Nile Headwaters was up there for one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Shooting down 8 sets of class 4,5 & 6 rapids seems like a dangerous endeavor but rest assure it is very safe because it also happens to be some of the deepest white water on the planet with almost no risk of hitting rocks (that isn’t to say flipping in class 6 rapids doesn’t get your fight or flight senses going!)

IMG_0264.jpg

The company we went with has never had any serious injuries in the 10 years of operation so relax mom. After the long day of amazing rafting we stayed on the river at a hostel next to a small local village. Pete and I made friends with the locals and fell in love with the cutest kid ever who couldn’t get enough of my leg…IMG_1407.jpg
We went a bit further down river to an island hostel oasis where we did white-water kayaking lessons and just relaxed. To get to this island a man comes over by canoe to take you across the large Nile River running around a secluded island- it was pretty cool. If anyone ever gets a chance to come to Africa in their lives, this place of the Nile headwaters, Jinja, Uganda is a must!

4) Before I left Denver I had the pleasure of connecting with Dr. Jamie Van Leeuwen (Deputy Chief of Staff Governors Office) who has done great work with poverty issues locally and I have come to see the great work he is doing internationally. He started the NGO Global Livingston Institute four years ago. It is an educational think tank for community leaders and university students focused on poverty issues in developing Africa. Pete and I were fortunate to be able to join an amazing group of individuals for the first part of this very special Community Leaders trip. Together we learned that people wanting to help this part of the world should first listen, learn, and then act. The first day took us to understand the many aspects to a successful, organically grown NGO called Come Let’s Dance. It started from a local boy coming up through extreme poverty in Kampala and later coming back to the slums to find orphan boys like himself and give him any and all that he had (i.e. simple shelter, sporadic food, safety). An incredible story that caught the attention of some Colorado kids who slowly morphed this mission into not just an orphanage but a new kind of school teaching reasoning vs. memorization, a clinic, a workshop teaching woman how to become self-sufficient, and a farm that teaches an organic way to grow while feeding & supporting the others facets of the organization.
IMG_1248.jpg
The next day we went into a slum in Kampala to participate in doing a hygiene clinic for the children while small groups went on tours of the slum—a densely populated collection of huts and shops. My job in the clinic was making sure each child thoroughly washed their hands and Pete’s station was in charge of putting anti-fungi crème on heads of the children. It was tough walking through the slum, seeing how dirty it was with raw sewage running down the streets and people not having good clothing or even any shoes. I was surprised to see how well functioning the commercial node was with thriving shops selling things like fried ants and goat heads.

IMG_1268.jpg

And many of the people seemed to not be depressed or sad but happy to see visitors but I wondered how relativity plays into that—not understanding how much better conditions can be for human beings. We ended the day with a visit to Kampala’s largest public hospital (comparable to Denver’s Denver Health). A doctor was kind enough to show us all around and answer our hundreds of questions. He sees an average of 50 patients per day because they are so overwhelmed (the average in the States is more like 20-30). The real shocking thing is that loved ones/friends are responsible for supplying everything outside of the actual medical care (i.e. clean clothes, blankets, food, feeding if required, etc.) and they can only come in at the visiting hours- crazy! The next day Pete and I went to check out the church service next to the slum and we felt very welcome. We actually had to go up to introduce ourselves and didn’t stick around for the whole service because they go around 4 hours. Each night the group had dinner together and had the opportunity to share their feelings, thoughts, and discuss about the experience/what to take from it all. It was a really intense but extremely valuable experience from start to finish and we were very happy to have been a part!

5) We closed out our time in Uganda with a day/night in Uganda’s only zoo, the Uganda Wildlife Education Center. You can actually sleep in this zoo and since we were there past regular opening hours we could participate in something very special, feeding all the cool animals! We had to tip the Keepers some but it was totally worth it to be able to see chimpanzees up close and personal, watch the Rhino’s run into their pens, and actually give raw meat to the baby lion cubs.

IMG_1811.jpg

It was a great way to finish our time in Africa because we were able to see all the animals we had seen in the wild all together in one place. The next morning we flew out of Entebbe International Airport to have a fun little lay over in Dubai before flying to Lisbon, Portugal!

6) Wow what a whirlwind April has been! There is so much the first part of this European road trip has covered, I could write a short novel. But for the sake of your eyes reading a computer screen that long I will do my best giving the cliff notes… After a fun 12 hour layover in Dubai we touched down in Lisbon to find our band new rental car waiting for us- this Renault, Megane Coup would be our baby for the next 2.5 months with the drop off in Munich. It worked out that our friend Alicia just finished her Masters in Portugal and was ready to show us a good time in the city she knew all too well, Lisbon! The girls flew in a few days later and we all crammed in the Coup and headed for the southern coast of Portugal. After a day of sun bathing in the cobble stone lined beach town of Lagos, we headed east to meet our mutual friend in Sevilla, Spain! There we had to play the tourist and check out the 3rd largest gothic cathedral in Europe along with other beautiful attractions Sevilla affords.

IMG_2256.jpg

One good night out there was all we needed to get ready for the weekend of incredible nightlife of Spain’s west coast cities, Valencia and Barcelona. We spend some good time in Barcelona to make sure the girls could take its many wonderful Gaudi treasures and old town exploring.
IMG_2531.jpg
We said farewell to Alicia and headed north to France’s gorgeous Mediterranean coast for some long overdue romantic time with the girlfriends. After some wonderfully relaxing days in southern France we continued our quick moving road trip to Geneva but took the opportunity to do one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever done. From the French Rivera we dropped into the cliff encased country of Monoco then back under an elaborate set of tunnels to Italy. We stopped for a delicious lunch outside of Turin then made the climb back over the white-capped Alps that then dropped us into a waterfall soaked Swiss valley. In Geneva we met with another friend working on her masters who did a wonderful job playing tour guide the few beautiful spring days we were there. Our drive over to Zurich took us through Interlocken, a small traditional Swiss mountain town, and the romantic river city of Lucern.
IMG_2571.jpg
We had our few last wonderful days with the girls exploring Zurich before we had to sadly put them on planes back to reality. Pete and I then drove north on the fun autobahn to the center of the Bavarian region of Germany to meet with a friend stationed with the Army there. We got our taste of delicious hefeweizen and weisswurst as we made our way northeast toward the alternative city of Desden. Wish we could have stayed longer because it had a funky underground music & art scene but we needed the full 5 days we planned for Berlin. Even in that amount of time it was hard to get in all the amazing museums, sites, historical tours, nightlife of Berlin and we were both surprised by the large Turkish influence and them still being stuck in the 90’s grunge scene!

IMG_3079.jpg


From there we promised to meet some German friends we met in Uganda in their home University town of Bamberg. This lively city is where the Beatles got their start and most of the young crowd parties all night on Saturday so they can roll right to the Sunday morning fish market—nothing like a delicious fish sandwich at a beer garden with live music to keep things going into the sunlight! We hit a few more small German towns before crossing over the Denmark border and entering our Scandinavia portion of the trip but those tales will come with the next update….

What is still to come….

• May: Scandinavia, Easter Block, St. Petersburg Russia
• June: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, (fly out of Munich)
• Mid-June: Greece (with the mommy)
• July: Nepal (Everest Base Camp), Japan
• End July: Hawaii (a good friends wedding)

It’s officially spring and I hope home is as full of life as is Europe. Still fighting my homesickness but summer is just around the corner and I’ll be able to see you all again soon!

Happily,

Chris

Isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be part of it? -Richard Dawkins

Posted by cspelke 12:46 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Spelke Travels Update #2 (February)

Getting a great mix of volunteering and travel...

The Contents Highlights:
1) Zanzibar – a week of beach activities and exploring historic Stone Town
2) Kigali Rwanda – getting there and finding a great home base for volunteering
3) Engineers Without Boarders – building a suspension bridge in a hillside village
4) Lake Kivu – a weekend chilling around Rwanda’s beautiful western lake
5) Bridges to Prosperity – starting a 220ft suspended bridge in very rural Rwanda

1) Last time I left you we were getting some well-needed beach time in Zanzibar. What a relaxing week that was… The two-hour ferryboat ride from Dar es Salaam drops you in historic Stone Town, the islands “capital” hub. Although Zanzibar is part of the United Republic of Tanzania, this wanna-be autonomist state has its own President and many Zanzibarians believe it should be a separate nation. A start would be to find it’s own energy source and not depend upon the 1950’s-built cable running under the sea from the mainland to power the island. There are constant blackouts and we experienced whole days without power but we didn’t mind at all kicking back on the island’s white sandy east coast. The constant and reliable easterly winds kept our 8-bedroom guesthouse cool throughout the day/night and made learning kite-surfing a breeze for Peter.

DSCF1643.jpg Although the bro wasn’t as smooth as many of the pro’s practicing long hang-time tricks, he quickly got the feel of the kite and managed to surf the turquoise mellow water on day 2 of his lessons. I on the other hand I had no problem sitting back with a book worshiping the sun. My favorites during our time on the tranquil east coast were moonlight bike riding on the beach, ‘jamin’ with the local Rasta-Man, “YaYa” around the beach fire, and scuba diving the coral reef (I didn’t just swim in circles- ok Mom ☺). DSCF1698.jpg
It was hard to leave our spot in the small coast town of Jambiani but we needed at least a day to see the sights of Stone Town before departing back to Dar. Wondering the narrow streets of Stone town was like being in a maze madeof stone & brick buildings. We finally found the cheese at the chaotic open-air market and got a history lesson at the old Slave Market. In the 1800’s, Stone Town was the largest port for slaves in the world, exchanging more than 120,000 per year. The heritage site now has two old slave chambers, a memorial statue, and a beautiful Anglican church built in 1874, just one year after the official end of slavery. We concluded the Zanzibar trip with a sunset boat ride to Prisoner’s Island, where we hung out with the world’s largest population of Aldabra Giant Tortoises.
IMG_0648.jpg

2) The trek to Rwanda wasn’t too pleasant. We caught a 6:30am flight from Dar es Salaam to Tanzania’s second largest city, Mwanza then had to take a series of sardine can-packed buses and random rides to get to the centrally located capital of Rwanda. We were more than happy arriving in Kigali after 18 hours of travel time. Kigali is by far the cleanest city we experienced in East Africa with very impressive public infrastructure for a developing country. This is thanks to the strong Rwandan government and how well this country has rebuilt both socially and physically after the horrific genocide of 1994. If fact, Pete and I felt more safe traveling all over this friendly city then most cities elsewhere in the world including the US. It also helped having Pete’s friend from engineering school post us up at her place in one of the nicer parts of Kigali.

IMG_0509.jpg We met the large ex-Pat crew here ranging from British working for growing NGO’s to Americans working for large and powerful private companies. This modern age city was a great home base to stock up on supplies before going out into the rural communities where we were volunteering because stores had much of the essentials for American boys to survive in remote villages (i.e. PBJ ingredients, instant coffee).

3) Our first volunteer experience in Rwanda was with Engineers without Borders (EWB) who where well into constructing a suspension bridge when we came on board. This opportunity came in preparation for the Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) site that was just getting off the ground and needed two weeks to become volunteer ready so they happily lent Pete and I’s manpower to aide a fellow NGO working on the same mission. It was an interesting project to be involved with because a group of German Engineering students designed the suspension bridge from scratch and were also responsible for the fundraising, logistics and project management. They used the Colorado-based Engineers without Borders non-profit status to raise funds for the project and connect with local institutions and supporting organizations like the Kigali Institute of Science & Technology (KIST) and B2P. Each week a new group of senior engineering students from KIST would trade free labor for design and construction management mentorship.

IMG_0587.jpg

Of course my brother ate it up and enginerded out with the German project managers and the students, sharing insight and war stories of construction. I on the other hand was more curious about the finances of the project, learning that a cement bag was worth more than a local laborer’s whole weeks wages. The other interesting part of the project was the 45-minute hike to and from our guesthouse to the jobsite that took us through the steep and busy hillside village of Kabaya. Each morning, as the sun was raising a group of 20-30 locals would wait patiently by the jobsite hopeful of being the dozen or so selected for work. The evening hike back up to the guesthouse would attract an entourage of kids wanting to walk along side the only “muzungus” (white people) in town or try and figure out how my prosthetic leg works.
IMG_0634.jpg
A typical day of work demanded the usual digging, backfilling, moving materials, but we also helped with three large concrete pours to complete the tower foundations and the “deadman block”. This block’s reinforcement took days tying together and was quite the operation filling in one day with concrete that was mixed by hand, of course. The blocks main purpose is for anchoring the suspension cables back into the hillsides that is backfilled once it cures. We had a good time helping with all the thought and manpower needed to run a concrete mixer system for the day’s pour.

IMG_0685.jpg

4) After two solid weeks of work we said farewell to the hard-working Germans and treated ourselves to a fun and relaxing weekend at Rwanda’s picturesque mountain lake. Some good muzungu friends from Kigali invited us to join them at a company house located on a secluded cove of Lake Kivu. We took advantage of a five-star resort a few minutes walk away with sunbathing, swimming, and great food.

IMG_0712.jpg

On the last day of our relaxing 3-day weekend, we took a sunset boat ride out to an uninhabited island that is home to thousands of fruit bats.
IMG_0772.jpg The whole area was gorgeous with lush hills falling into clear green deep water. Lake Kivu is also very unique because it has more dissolved methane gas in it’s depths than any other lake in the world, enough to provide half of Rwanda’s 11 million residents with electricity for the next 50 years and giving rise to the largest commercial methane extraction project in history. This little factoid has a negative: the amount of methane and CO2 gas trapped at the bottom of the Lake from the water pressure has the potential for a catastrophic limnic eruption. This event has not yet happen in the Lake’s recorded history but if it did it would violently push these gasses up through the lake, causing a title wave and dissipating lighter surface air which would suffocate everyone in the area…luckily this didn’t happen when we were there but it has happened at other rift lakes much like it.

5) The Project Manager for Bridges to Prosperity (Andrew) picked us up from Lake Kivu and took us to our new bridge site where we spent our secluded next two weeks. After 5hrs (that included 3hrs of grueling 4WD road) we arrived at the mud brick guesthouse B2P had rented to store materials and adventurous volunteers. There was no electricity and the only running water came off a pipe that funnels stormwater a couple hundred yards away.
IMG_0878.jpg
We shared the house with the mason and cook who made our daily lunch and dinners from a coal burning stove in a separate room—putting together some delicious rice/veggie concoctions. We were truly living the rural Rwandan lifestyle and loved it! The construction site was not far from the house but took a steep hike to get to. Soon a 67meter (~220ft) suspended bridge would span over the large Cyamangu River here.

IMG_1002.jpg

The 15-20ft wide divider of the Southern and Western Districts of Rwanda had claimed 12 lives just the past wet season. It was an ideal site for B2P to implement their cost-effective solid design to bridge separated communities and increase safety of walking networks for this developing country. The first week consisted of harvesting local rock and sand from the river and transporting it up to the tower foundation holes. I even took a whack at breaking up the sedimentary rock into concrete-ready gravel pieces but decided after sludge-hammering sharp rock fragments into my skin to leave it to the local hires. Wondering how we could be more helpful by lending our creative minds, we discussed making the construction site more efficient. When the Project Manager mention the idea to design and build a zip-line that would save time transporting heavy cement bags and masonry stones safely across the river Pete and I jumped all over the idea! We began working on the survey and design right away. DSC_0242.jpg After trouble shooting and brainstorming over dinner, we came up with a design and a plan for the next week’s work. We spanned a 100meter (330 feet) 3/8” steel cable across the riverbed and anchored it to an existing tree on the downhill side and a foundation anchored 8-foot pole on the uphill.

IMG_0947.jpg

On our last day we built and tested our design. The mason helped us piece together a ~90lbs rectangle box made of wood boards and rebar to take the load of at least 2 bags of cement. IMG_0988.jpg Peter bravely carried the finished “material carrying crate” down the steep hill to test it going across the river on the cable with a pulley. She worked! It needs some line adjustments but it made it steadily across the river without going to fast or stopping over the river; we also tied a rope to it in order to pull it back to the high side. The following day we said our goodbyes and hiked 2.5hrs to catch a bus at the main road. Andrew, who had to be a meeting in Kigali that day, met us and we cruised to Nyungwe National Park and experienced chimp trekking.
IMG_1019.jpg After 2hrs of hiking through steep jungle we tracked two male chimpanzees who where eating fruit at the top of a tree. The guides warn us not to get to close and we paid for it when we thought it was strange to feel rain with the sun out (a good laugh was had at our negligence). It was a good ending with our Project Manager Andrew who had shown us much of Rwanda that we would not have been able to see without his adventurous spirit (thanks big guy).

We now are currently in Uganda finishing out stint in East Africa. You’ll have to stay tune to the next update for some good stories and I promise it won’t be nearly as long as this update. Again, we welcome anyone who would like to join us on any leg of our trek around the globe and please feel free to reply with any advice on the following itinerary…

Hope the winter is treating everyone well. Miss home but couldn’t be happier.

Sincerely,

Chris

Don't ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. — Harold Whitman

Posted by cspelke 07:06 Archived in Rwanda Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 »