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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Presov at Christmas

Finally! Here are some more pictures from Slovakia including Christmas trees and Nativity scenes. I think it' appropriate that I post them today. You can see them by clicking the link below.

Last word is my house will close on 29 December. A week late, but I'm still very excited.

Merry Christmas to all my friends out there!!

Russ
http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/PresovAtChristmas#

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

I was supposed to close on my house next Tuesday, the 23d, but it was delayed through no fault of my own. The new closing date is projected to be either the 26th or 29th. Oh well, as long as it's done before the new year. I can't wait!!

I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Take care.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Getting Closer . . .

. . . to purchasing a home. Actually, it's a done deal. Yesterday, I had the house inspected and got back a very favorable report. The inspector was surprised I was getting such a good deal on it but the economy and the seller's imminent transfer affected the price I'm sure. It's also in a great location for future appreciation and driving to work. I should be closing before the end of the year.

Oh, it is a four-bedroom and this begs the question, why do I need so many rooms? Well, it's easier to sell a house this size and, who knows, I might get married eventually. I just hope I'm not as impulsive in doing that as I was in buying the car and the house. In the meantime, I'll turn one room into a gym and the other into an office.

Back to work tomorrow and happy about it. I've been able to reconnect with old friends and even make new ones amongst the employees who've arrived since I departed a few years ago. I will probably travel again in a year or so.

Any furniture suggestions?

Russ

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Recent Purchases

Another warm weekend here in South Central Texas. As you know, I bought a new car and am seriously looking at a house. I've included pictures of the car and the house I'll be offering on in the next week or so. Let me know what you think. This shouldn't affect my traveling too much. I have friends who can watch the house and start the car on occasion. Still, I plan to stay here for at least a year before the next trip.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Purchases#

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Still in San Antonio

I will be looking at a house today. The price is a little high but I'm sure they'd drop it. It's really a buyer's market now. I had located a house that was perfect, but had already been sold unfortunately. When you find a house that you really like, you tend to judge all others by that high standard. Oh well, I plan to take my time with this process and the worse that could happen is home prices could drop even further.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Travel Postponed?

A lot going on lately which explains why I haven't posted in a while. I bought a new vehicle last month (will post a picture of it someday) and have been very busy at work. And now, I'm thinking of buying a house. This won't affect my traveling in the long run but I'll want to enjoy the house for a while before I take off again.

I'll try to post some pictures of past travels this weekend.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Two Months On

I've been back in Texas for almost two months now. Under normal circumstances, this would be about the time I would be getting ready to go overseas again. However, I've decided to stay here for a while, at least a year and maybe longer. There are two reasons for this. The first is, because I've been away for most of the last two years, I feel my career has been put on hold. Those who have come after me have moved on to other departments and seem to be a bit ahead. The other reason I want to stay here a while is that it's been good to reconnect with old friends. No matter how close your friendships are, people have a tendency to forget about you when you've been gone so long. I had forgotten how nice it is to interact with those you have a lot in common with. It's much easier than trying to negotiate all the cultural pitfalls you face in other countries.

Not to worry though, I have enough pictures from past travels to keep this site alive. I can also travel Texas in my new vehicle taking pictures of interesting sites. I'm really looking forward to the downtime.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (17) More Food and Drink

These pictures were taken in the closing weeks of my time in Slovakia. The first two were at an afternoon dinner scheduled by my work place and the third was the spread of food at the goodbye party for which I've posted pictures previously. I would have posted these before, but some of my friends had just sent them to me.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia17MoreFoodAndDrink#

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (16) Aircraft Part 3

This the last few of the group. I especially like the close-up.

No word on the travel front yet and that's probably my fault. I'm finding myself more comfortable here probably because I just returned from Afghanistan. Anyway, there's no rush. I can always go overseas.

Enjoy the pics.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia16AircraftPart3#

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (16) Aircraft Part 2

Some more pictures from the airfield in Slovakia. We pretty much had the run of the place.

I won't write too much today. I bought a new vehicle yesterday (a Ford Escape) and am enjoying that. I'll post a picture or two of it in the near future.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia16AircraftPart2#

Sunday, October 12, 2008

West Virginia Festivals

While visiting my family last week, I went to two festivals. One was a Greek festival held at the local Orthodox church. The other was the 'Cabell County Pumpkin Festival.' I took a few pictures of each. In the first few, you can see traditional Greek dancing. In the other three, you see the winning pumpkins, a wood carving (using a chain saw) of an alligator, and the cooking of lye soap. I liked the former festival rather than the latter because the crowds were so big at that one.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/FestivalsInWestVirginia#

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (16) Aircraft

Finally, I'm posting some more pics from Slovakia. Just the other day, one of my former trainees sent me a multitude of pictures from a trip we all took. I have already posted some from the same trip on this site but he had many more I had not seen before. They include pictures of various aircraft and some group pictures.

Also, be sure to check out the picture I'm using as wallpaper at the bottom of this page.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia16Aircraft#

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Back in San Antonio

Well, I've returned to San Antonio arriving three days ago. I'm in-processing this week and going back to work next week. Everyone keeps asking when I'm going back overseas and I tell them not anytime soon. I want to reconnect with old friends and get to know some of the new employees. Actually, I'll probably start looking to travel again sometime next spring. In the meantime, I'll explore Texas a bit. I've heard there're some wonderful towns with European heritages.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Interesting Travel Companion

On my flight to WV, I sat by an interesting person in uniform. I could tell by his unit insignia that he was a special operator (green beret), but asked him just to be sure. He confirmed this and told me he was just returning from Afghanistan. As it turns out, he and I had been on the same flight out of there but didn't realize it. Now, we were on the same flight home. What a coincidence! Anyway, he told me a few war stories and also made it clear that things WERE getting worse. The news had already reported this, but it was enlightening to hear specifics from someone on the ground.

That was one of the few times I was happy that a fellow passenger was talkative!

I don't have any immediate plans to travel except in Texas, but I'll probably be looking to go out again in the January/February timeframe.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Greek Festival

Yesterday, I went with my mother to a Greek Festival at the local Orthodox church. The first surprising thing was there were any Greeks who lived in this part of the US. The second surprise was that they had retained so much of their culture. My mother was primed for the event since she had recently seen the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding!" I was primed because I had lived in Greece for several months and was already familiar with many of the things I saw there. There was traditional dancing, Greek food, etc. but the best part was the church tour. The priest asked us what we first noticed when we entered the church. One person said a lot of lighting and another said a lot of gold coloring. I wanted to say the church was very 'iconic' but decided not to draw any atttention to myself. Fortunately, I refrained from this because the priest went on and on explaining the purpose of all the icons. Had I said what I wanted to, I would have felt I had put him on the defensive. Anyway, I had a great time and it brought back many memories from my time in Athens.

I'll try to post some pictures of the festival when I get back to my computer in Texas.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Off to West Virginia

I'm off to West Virginia to visit my family for a week. I'll try to take some pictures for posting. Please keep checking in.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thailand '97 (2)

Here are some more pictures of my '97 trip to Thailand. I have to resort to pictures taken 11 years ago since I'm currently NOT traveling. I hope to rectify this in the next few months.

Anyway, these pictures include shots of the Burmese railroad, the Bridge over the River Kwai (Remember the movie?), and a cemetery containing prisoners who died building these structures. It was a very informative tour.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Thailand972#

Monday, September 22, 2008

Trip Recap

It's Monday morning and I'm still a bit jetlagged although I slept well last night. The return trip was tiring but also satisfying in a way. On the flight, there was a certain cameraderie that existed between myself and the military guys because of our shared experience. Everywhere we stopped, people expressed appreciation for what we had done. At the Baltimore airport, people were actually waiting at the exits to applaud us upon our return. It was a good feeling and I imagine very different from that experienced by Vietnam vets. It shows our country has matured in some ways. Or, perhaps those who might protest us were still in their respective opium dens!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back Home!

Well, I'm in Baltimore and will fly to San Antonio today. It's good to be back. I'll give more details once I get settled in.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Adana, Turkey

I just landed here and am awaiting reboarding for the leg to Ramstein AFB. The trip from Kyrgyzstan took about five hours and went a little slowly even though I slept a lot. Keep reading this blog for updates on my trip home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Killing Time

I'm still in Kyrgyzstan just killing time. My roommate and I are having sleeping contests, but I think it's a tie. He's from the deep south so I know I can trust him. Anyway, at least he doesn't have arguments with the TV like my roommate in Afghanistan did.

Should be leaving on Saturday morning and arriving in Baltimore Saturday night. I can't wait to get back!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kyrgyzstan

I am now in Kyrgyzstan. I can't say much about the country since I'm not allowed to leave the American Air Force base. Still, I'm enjoying the downtime here since I got very little of it in Afghanistan.

I departed Kabul early Sunday morning on a small prop plane. The flight to Bagram AFB was only about 30 minutes and the scenery below was beautiful. I wish I'd had more of a chance to explore the country. Anyway, I dreaded arrival in Bagram because it was so difficult the first time through. Bagram's terminal is notorious (according to a Major I traveled with) for being the worst in the country, kind've like O'Hara in the US. Sure enough, getting through Bagram proved to be as difficult as before. No one to guide you upon arrival. People giving you answers in an uncertain tone. The worst was when I returned to the terminal for my next flight. We had to file into a room and dump all the contents of our suitcases into bins. Then, MPs inspected the contents item by item. At least the German Shepards were friendly. It took forever and I wonder what with all its money, why the US can't buy one x-ray machine.

To add insult to injury the flight was delayed three hours. But, what can you expect. The military personnel are thrust into positions they haven't been properly trained for and only stay in for a few months so no expertise can really be acquired. I hope that's my last time through that place.

So, I'm flying through the night with my body armor on (I hope it protects me from plane crashes) and pretty exhausted. Finally, I arrive at Manas AFB and civilization. Efficient and professional compared to the reception I received at Bagram. I'll be here for several days and then rotate back to the US. In the meantime, I'm catching up on this site and trying to explore a little.

More in a few days . . .

Friday, September 12, 2008

Almost at the End!

It's 8pm, Friday evening, Afghan time. I will leave early Sunday morning on a flight out of here. I'll spend approximately five days in Kyrgyzstan awaiting my rotator back to the states. I can't believe the end is almost here. I regret I wasn't allowed to see the countryside but not enough to return. The Afghan people are wonderful and this country deserves our help, but it's someone else's turn to provide it. I'm outta here!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Last Day of Work

Today was my last day of work in Afghanistan. Everyone said their goodbyes, some I will miss and some I won't. I will miss the trainees who have the best attitude of any I've ever met. This country is definitely worth saving based on the people I've known here.

We have a meeting on Friday but pretty much nothing to do for the next three days except prepare for departure. I leave Kabul on the 14th.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eastern Kentucky

I just thought I'd throw some pictures in of the area I grew up in. These are pictures of my father's farm in Eastern Kentucky. He doesn't live on the farm and it's a bit unkempt, but I like it because at least it's green. I haven't seen much green in the last several months!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/EasternKentucky#

Afghanistan (4)

Just a few more pics of aircraft in Afghanistan. I probably won't post much else since I'm leaving in a week and can't get outside the base. I regret that I had absolutely no chance to see the country. However, I think it's a good idea for us to have a presence here because these are great people and they deserve a chance to succeed. I don't know if I can say the same about the Iraqis from what I've heard. Anyway, check out the pictures below.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Afghanistan4#

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Earthquake!

Not only do I have to deal with occasional rocket attacks, I also have to worry about natural disasters. Around 1015 local time, the building begin to shake and we evacuated immediately. I had experienced a minor earthquake last year in Japan, but this one was very strong. One more week, am I going to make it out of here?

Friday, September 5, 2008

One More Week . . .

. . . and a few days. I begin my last week tomorrow. We plan to work for four days and then begin outprocessing for four more days. After that, I'll catch a few military planes out of here to Kyrghzstan where I'll have several days to kill. I liked Kyrghzstan on the way over so it will be nice to have a few days to look around. I should be back in San Antonio on the 21st.

Goodness! There are so many things I want to do when I get back. The first thing I want to do is enjoy the privacy. It was tough having a roommate in a conex for three months. After that, I'll take a hot shower that lasts more than two minutes. Finally, I'm going to get out and take a long drive. It will be like paradise.

Just a few more days now!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Afghanistan (3)

Here are the last of the pics from the MI-24 sighting. I wish I could have taken more but I was always confined to our base. Check them out and let me know what you think.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Afghanistan3#

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Life Is Cheap Over Here

All of our trainees have a sad story to tell. When I first arrived, I couldn't believe the number of funerals they were attending. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has lost a relative to the war. The odd thing is that they go about their business the next day as if nothing had happened. I guess I would be desensitized to it as well if I had experienced as much death and destruction as they have. It really makes you appreciate the stable life we have in the West. I imagine the fight is worth it just to preserve that.

15 days to go!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Afghanistan (2)

Finally, I got to be proactive and see some action instead of just waiting for the rockets to drop on my head. A friend and I assaulted this MI-24 and took some pictures. Actually, this wasn't too hard to do since it had been shot down years before!! Anyway, these pictures are of me getting some much needed rest on the way out. The other two are of me with body armor and weapon standing by our trophy. Will add some more pictures in my next posting.

Russ

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Afghanistan2

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Note on the Ads

Some of the ads popping up on my site recently have had questionable content in them. In my defence, I do not choose these ads. Google randomly assigns them based on keywords in my postings. So, for example, if I write about Thailand, something pertaining to 'Asian Brides' may pop up. I just wanted everyone to know this!!

'Taliban Tim'

Do you remember the episode of M.A.S.H where a North Korean pilot named 'Five O'Clock Charlie' dropped bombs in the area every day at 5 o'clock? Although he never hit anything, he still created a lot of havoc for the members of the 4077th because they had to stop what they were doing every time he appeared. Well, we have our version of this in a person we have dubbed 'Taliban Tim.' He interrupts our sleep every Thursday night/Friday morning with his rockets that never come close to hitting anything. I can't wait to get back to the world where I don't have to worry about being called on alert. Geez! I'm seeing more action now than when I was in the Army proper!!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

They Strike Again!

Let me tell you, there is no worse feeling than being asleep for an hour and then hearing there's been another rocket attack. You have to get up, put on your gear, and then hustle down to the bunker. I really don't see the point of rushing though. The rockets have already hit wherever they were aimed and it takes another 10-15 minutes to send out the alarm. Also, whoever launched them knows that for every additonal one they fire, there's a better chance of them being located and targeted. It's senseless for us to run for cover after the fact.

Anyway, I'm starting to get the feeling the enemy is becoming more active. This is the second attack on our location in one week whereas, there were none my first two months here. Oh well, I'll be out of here soon.

Thailand '97

Here are a few pictures of a traditional village outside Bangkok taken in '97. I eventually returned to Bangkok in '01 and worked there for a year. It was a nice respite after Saudi Arabia.

The pictures include traditional dance, Muay Thai boxing, and a temple.

Enjoy!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Thailand97

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I had a dream!

The other morning, I was in a deep sleep dreaming about being in a room. In the dream, I imagined someone knocking on the door violently. The knocking kept getting louder and louder until I woke up shaking. Later, I found out that a massive explosion had occured at 0330 about a kilometer away. It seems that the Taliban are on the offensive again. I've heard travel is extremely hazardous south, east, and west of the city. 24 days to go!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Afghan Independence Day!

Lo and behold, we finally have a day off! Today is Afghan Independence day. You're probably wondering, independence from whom? Well, from the British although I think the holiday would be equally applicable to the Russians, Taliban, and probably Americans in the future. Anyway, it's good to have a day off in the middle of the week.

I'm also looking forward to the month of Ramadan. I experienced this several times in Saudi Arabia but I think it will be less stringent here. We'll probably be working half-days because the Afghans are fasting and can't endure work for the whole day. I'll miss the Eid (festival) unfortunately because I won't be here at that time.

Speaking of which, I began packing a storage trunk today for shipping ahead of my departure. That was very cathartic. I expect to depart Afghanistan around mid-September. It's been a long haul but I can see the end in sight.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Italy (1986)

Here are some photos from Italy in 1986. The first group are of the area around Hadrian's villa. The second includes a shot of one of the canals in Venice and the Pope giving his papal address on Easter Sunday. The final group shows the Forum area in Rome. Looking forward to my next trip there.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Italy1986

Rocket Attack!

We had a little bit of excitement this morning. At about 5am, alarms went off and we had to deploy to the bunkers. Apparently, three rockets had been fired into our compound. We had had a practice alert before but this was the real thing. I was surprised at how calm both myself and the others were. I guess that comes from fearing death from boredom rather than rockets.

28 days to go!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Perception of the Russians

One thing that really surprised me when I first came to Afghanistan was how many of my colleagues viewed the Soviet occupation as a sort of 'golden age' for them and their country. I had always believed the Afghan people had suffered so much under the Russians and could not wait for them to leave and/or be driven out. Of course, this was true to some extent but not everyone felt this way. To my surprise, many Afghans had studied in Moscow and even met their wives there. Essentially, they view the Russians in a similar way to how they view the US, a foreign entity trying to help their country improve but also making some egregious errors. It's very intriguing for me to hear this perspective as my preconceived notions so clearly differed.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Athens, Greece (1985)

This is a blast from the past! Here are some pictures from Athens, Greece 1985. My best friend in the military was Greek-American and invited me down to Athens for a visit. I fell in love with the place and lived there for a while before I returned to the US after my military service. I think my experience was much different than most tourists because I was able to meet 'real' people rather than those working in the tourist traps.

Anyway, these pictures were taken during the Christmas season of '85.

#1 My friend's relatives showing me around the Acropolis and the theater below.
#2 A picture of the Parthenon and Christmas Eve in the Kato Patisia neighborhood of Athens.
#3 Christmas day with more relatives and an imitation of Zorba the Greek!

The quality of these pictures is not good obviously. This was before the day of digital cameras.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/AthensGreece1985

Travelogue Slovakia (15) Roznava

I'm running out of pictures of Slovakia which means I need to take another trip there asap! Actually, I think I have some more but they're at home while I'm here in Afghanistan. Anyway, here are three pictures of a castle and the area near Roznava, Slovakia. As a bonus, I'm going to include some old pictures from Athens in the mid-80's in the post above this one.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia15Roznava

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Not Much Longer Now

I received word the other day that I will be departing Afghanistan on or about 12 September. I really can't wait and have been recently thinking of all the things I can do that I used to take for granted. The first thing I want to do is take a long, hot shower. Then, I want to take a drive not having to worry about IEDs or other assorted dangers. Finally, I look forward to an uninterrupted night of sleep with no roommate snoring in the bed next to me. I will appreciate life to the fullest!

37 days to go!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Afghanistan (1)

Finally, I took some pictures from here in Afghanistan. Nothing special because I'm limited to what I can see nearby. Hopefully, I can return here in the future as a tourist when it's safer. Anyway, the mountains in the pictures are quite majestic with those in the background being around 20,000 feet. We are living at 7,000 feet in Kabul as it is. 42 days to go.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/Afghanistan1

Budapest (October 2006) Part 3

Here are the final pictures from the Hungary trip in 2006. I enjoyed the trip but it was definitely a different atmosphere from my life in Slovakia. Hungary is a nice place to visit, but I'm not sure I'd want to live there. You can see the pictures at the link below.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/BudapestOctober2006Part3

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Budapest (October 2006) Part 2

I got distracted from this trip due to my impending trip to Afghanistan. Anyway, here are some more pics mostly of the downtown area. The next time I post some pictures, I'll show you some of the countryside.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/BudapestOctober2006Part2

Gender Relations!

I had an interesting thing happen this week. I was told I was having a visitor in one of my classes, an Afghan translator. What I didn't know was that the translator was a woman. Having lived in Saudi Arabia for several years, I never expected to meet a woman under such conditions in a conservative Muslim country. I didn't know whether/how to speak to her. Anyway, in the end, everything went well and the male trainees acted normally around her. Just another example of how Afghanistan is changing as of late.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another Exciting Weekend in Afghanistan

Yes, AF is a dangerous place and people certainly die over here. However, my biggest fear is dying from boredom. For security reasons, I can't leave the compound. Supposedly, we have TV but I can't recall it ever working. Really, there's nothing at all to do here besides work. On a more upbeat note, I really enjoy the Afghans I've been around. They're very polite, accomodating, and even fun-loving. Still, I can detect, for lack of a better word, a certain wildness in their character. I suspect that if they like you, they would defend you to the death. If they didn't, they would probably do the opposite. It's a shame I can't get out and meet more of them.

As I said, another exciting weekend in AF.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Angkor Wat (2)

Here are some more pics from Cambodia and the temple complex. The first picture is a story of a battle carved out of stone. The fourth picture shows someone using a rope to climb down temple steps. Believe me, the rope was necessary because the steps were so narrow that normal-sized people could not use them.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/AngkorWat2

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Angkor Wat (1)

Here are some pictures from the Angkor Wat temple complex taken in early 2005. Although we think of it as being one temple, it's actually several temples spread out over a city-size area. I'll include pictures of several other structures over the next few weeks.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/AngkorWat1

More Happenings!

A little more excitement today that I won't go into. Just let me say, that I didn't have to go into work which was a bit of a break. I'm a little disappointed in my stay here so far because I haven't been able to take any decent pictures. I hope to take some in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Day After . . .

Well, things are back to normal here after an exciting day yesterday. Apparently, the blast was the worst since 2001 and the government is blaming Pakistani elements for the explosion. Hopefully, this is the last time something like this will happen at least while I'm here. Keep checking in.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Car Bomb in Kabul!!

This morning, a car bomb exploded outside the Indian embassy in Kabul. According to the most recent news reports, 41 have already died and 141 were injured. There will probably be more deaths over time. Anyway, I'm okay and things seem to be normal where I'm at. I can't overreact to what happens over here (nor should anyone else) or I'll be upset all the time.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Two Weeks In . . .

Okay, I've been in AF for two weeks and have gained some insight into what I'm dealing with here. Let me take it by topic:

The Climate

As soon as I arrived, I caught a cold and a nasty one at that. One of my colleagues predicted this and gave me a bunch of Nyquil and Sudafed on my first day. When I asked him how he knew I would be sick, he said that everyone gets sick from the 'fecal matter' in the air. After hearing that, I had to ask for clarification. He told me the farmers plow up their fields and this throws particles into the air.

The People

I have been immensely impressed with the people. They are extremely outgoing, helpful, and kind although you can sense a little wildness in their nature. Michener describes the Afghans as friendly at the first meeting but deceitful and cruel in later encounters. I have yet to see the latter.

The Country

Not much to report here since I'm only allowed off the base under certain circumstances because of the danger factor. Hopefully, I'll have more to report in the future

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (14) Salt Museum Part 2

Some more pics from the Salt Museum Tour. It was quite tiring and refreshments were necessary as you can see in the last picture.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia14SaltMuseumPart2

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (14) Salt Museum

Here are some more pictures from Presov. Some of my friends took me to a Salt Museum one day. It was very interesting hearing about the history of the place and techniques used to extract the salt. I'll put some more pictures of the place up in the next few days.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia14SaltMuseum

Monday, June 23, 2008

The First Week

I'm still fighting the jetlag although it's getting better now. When I first arrived, one of my coworkers insisted that I take a supply of Nyquil/Sudafed from him. I resisted but eventually yielded after he kept bugging me. He told me that I would catch a cold the first week as all the others had. He was right, I caught a cold and a nasty cough within the first few days. Apparently, the change in altitude (7,000 feet) and the 'fecal matter' in the area have this effect on everyone.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In Afghanistan

Well, I arrived here in the wee hours of Thursday morning after a arduous journey that began last Saturday. I tried to see the trip as an adventure, but it was also very tiring. It was also quite the experience trying to catch military flights from point A to point B with luck playing a big part. All in all, my first impression was positive with the base I'm living on resembling a small, European village. It has many ethnic restaurants to go along with it's multi-cultural population. I'll give you more details after I get settled in and recover from the jetlag.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On my way . . .

I'm currently in Baltimore awaiting a late flight this evening that will ultimately take me to Afghanistan. I'm a little apprehensive and a little excited, but mainly, I just want to get there and get settled in. The airlines lost my luggage of course but I got it back early this morning. I will be off-line for the next week. I'll post something as soon as I can get internet access. What in the world did we do before we got the internet?

Russ

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Departure Date

I just received an update on my departure date to Afghanistan. I will be leaving on 14 June and flying to AF via Baltimore, Germany, and Kyrgyzstan with possibly even more stops in between. I have a feeling I'm going to be pretty tired at the end of that trip.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (13) Goodbye Party!!

About a month before I left Slovakia, some of my friends decided to throw a 'goodbye' party for me. They rented a villa at a ski resort (although there wasn't any snow yet) and we spent the night there. We had a wonderful, catered meal as you'll see in the pictures. The roast pig was especially delicious and cooked in the traditional way.

I want to assure you that all drinks appearing in the pictures are non-alcoholic!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia13GoodbyeParty

Friday, May 30, 2008

Budapest (October 2006)

Here are some pictures of my trip to Budapest in '06. I took the train from Presov and enjoyed viewing the countryside on the way down. I spent about three days there touring the city and surrounding area. I found both the scenery and people quite different from what I experienced in Slovakia.

Here are the pictures and no, the bullet holes are not from me firing my 9mm. They are evidence of shots fired during the uprising in '56.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/BudapestHungaryOctober2006

I should have one more series of pictures from this trip posted later this weekend.

Russ

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Poll!!

Please vote in the new poll above for the next country to be included on this site!!

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 6

I am trying to move on from this topic but I find these pictures so unique. I hope you agree. Obviously, the Hungarian royalty were quite the collectors and not shy about displaying these ostentatious items.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia12BetliarManorPart6

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 5

I thought about moving on to a different subject but these pictures are too beautiful not to show. You will see various types of furniture that reflect how the wealthy lived at that time (19th century). Keep checking in because I plan to post the final ones from this manor in the next few days.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia12BetliarManorPart5

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 4

And now, even more pictures from the manor. I'm probably boring some people with all these but they're so unique that I feel compelled to post them. One thing you'll notice is that the inhabitants of the manor collected items from throughout the world both directly and as gifts. Here are some more photos:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia12BetliarManorPart4

Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Oh, I'm still looking for village pictures and will post as soon as I can.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Notre Dame

These pictures were taken during my last trip to campus in 2004. It's about time for me to return as I always feel energized after visiting my alma mater. I attended the school in the '80s and that was a great time for Notre Dame football. We had a Heismann winner (Tim Brown) and one national championship under Lou Holtz. Great memories!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/NotreDame

I think there are seven pictures, but my favorites are the Golden Dome, the Grotto, and St. Joseph's Lake. I spent a lot of time walking around the lake with my friends and enjoyed sitting in front of the Grotto late at night. It was so relaxing. I really miss those days living the contemplative life.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 3

Here are some more pictures of the interior of Betliar Manor. There's not much I can say about them, I'll let them speak for themselves.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia12BetliarManorPart3

Once again, it may take a while for me to add these pictures to the 'Slideshow' link so click the link above to see them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New Ratings System

Google keeps upgrading the options on its blogger sites. Now, you can rate any of the articles you read using a 'star' system at the bottom of the article. I'm not sure if I like this; it will depend on the results!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Time to make it official

It's time to make it official. I've known where my next assignment was going to be for a few weeks, but waited until now to announce it. I decided it was time to do my bit for King and Country and volunteered for Afghanistan!! Yes, I will depart for Kabul sometime in mid-June. I think this will be a fascinating tour and should provide some good stories for my site.

Don't worry about me going there though. I won't be out on patrol; my job doesn't entail that. Still, I may have to put myself a little at risk to get the best pictures!!

Russ

Monday, May 5, 2008

'Slideshow' working again

No need to click now unless you want to see the larger pictures . . .

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 2

Finally! I've put some more photos of Betliar on my site. All of these photos are from the inside of the manor. Next week, I'll try to include more photos from the outside and surrounding area.

Enjoy!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia12BetliarManorPart2

PS You'll have to click the link above because, for some reason, I can't capture the new pictures in the slideshow feature. It happens sometimes.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Flying back to San Antonio . . .

I'll be heading back 'home' today flying out of Charleston WV at 4pm. I had a great flight up and hope the return flight is equal to that. I still have one week of vacation remaining thank goodness. I will be posting much more next week since I'll be back to my own computer with photos, etc.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Update from WV

Let me begin by apologizing for not posting anything exciting this week. I've been visiting with my family and my computer (with photos) is in San Antonio. I have taken some pictures here in Kentucky/WV and hopefully, will post some of them next week.

Normally when someone talks about the weather, they've run out of things to say but I must comment on it. I've been freezing since I arrived here!! The temperature today was in the 40s and this is a huge change for me having just returned from Djibouti. I even had to buy a jacket!

I did find out where I'm heading to next but I think I'll keep it secret for a few more weeks just to be sure I haven't counted my chickens before they hatched to use a cliche.

Please keep checking in, Russ

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Flying to West Virginia!!

I will be flying to WV to see my family today. I'll stay there for one week and then return to San Antonio. I hope to take some pictures while I'm there. Although they won't be as exciting as those from other countries, I believe they'll be quite interesting for those who haven't traveled to that part of the US.

Oh! Check out the new link for Presov in the right margin under 'Slovak Links.' This site was established to promote Presov as the 'Cultural Capital of Europe.' It certainly has my vote.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor

In November '07, I went to southern Slovakia to a town called Roznava. One of my favorite students had invited me to spend the night at his family's house and I was happy to oblige. The next day, we went to a summer manor that used to be occupied by Hungarian royalty. The name of the manor is 'Betliar.' The first picture is from the outside but in no way reflects the actual enormity of the structure. It took about two hours to tour the whole manor. I was very surprised at how well the pictures from the inside turned out. Here are two other pictures from some of the rooms.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia12BetliarManor

More pictures from this trip coming next week!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back in the US!!

Just letting everyone know that I'm back in the US now (specifically, San Antonio). I had a very long trip and am currently suffering from jet lag so give me a few more days to put up another travelogue. I was in transit a total of 28 hours with relatively short layovers in between and my body is sore from the cramped conditions. Still, I'm very happy to be back.

More later, Russ

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

So Little Time . . .

I depart in three days and am feeling the stress of trying to get everything done. It hasn't helped that I've developed a nasty virus the last few days. Fortunately, I have access to a military clinic so I was able to get medicine which seems to be helping. That's okay. I'm getting on that plane one way or another.

I am so looking forward to coming home!! I will never be critical of living in the US again.

I'll post again after my return. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (11) MI-24 Helicopter

Just when you thought it was over! I still have a few more adventures to send you. These pictures are from a trip we took to the Slovak Air Force base in Presov. In the first picture, you can see me sitting in an MI-24 helicopter. I thought we couldn't take pictures but the Public Affairs officer approved it. Things have certainly changed from the Warsaw Pact days! The next picture shows my Slovak coworker Susanna in the same one. Finally, you can see the same type of helicopter in the air although I was not flying it! It was a good trip, but very cold from what I remember.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia11MI24Helicopter

I still have many more pictures from Slovakia that I'll eventually dig out. I probably won't do this for a few weeks however because I'm flying back to the US on the 19th. So, I'll be a bit busy next week.

I want to say 'hello' to my Slovak friend Palo who is currently stationed in Kosovo. I hope he's reading and is certainly welcome to post his adventures here.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Homeward Bound In Two Weeks

It's Friday evening locally and a new week begins tomorrow. This will be my last full week of work here in Djibouti. During the final week, I will be tying up some loose ends and outprocessing. I'm starting to feel how close I am to leaving and this makes me a little sad. However, I am looking forward to getting back to the US for a while and visiting my family and friends.

In my time here, I've tried to stay positive for the most part but honestly, there are some things I will not miss. I won't miss the constant begging/scamming that I encounter on the street every day. This really wears you down after a while and you dread going outside at times. I realize that people have to make a living, but there has got to be a better way. I will also not miss the constant request for favors from coworkers/acquaintenances. Everything you accomplish here is based on relationships, but I seem to be the only one giving and not receiving anything!! On a smaller scale, I won't miss waking up the receptionist every morning and asking him to turn on the server so I can check my e-mail. I really won't miss his snide comment that "This isn't the West" but I will miss my retort "Then why am I paying Western prices for non-Western service?" Can anyone guess what level of culture shock I've reached?

Well, enough complaining. I've had an enriching experience here and look forward to the next great adventure. I should know my destination in the coming months.

I'll keep you posted . . .

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (10) Bardejov Trip

Written on October 10, 2006

Well, this is the tenth travelogue so a milestone has been reached so to speak! I went to Budapest over the weekend but that report will have to wait for a few more days. Prior to sending that one, I need to update you on what happened the week before.

Some of my students had suggested that they take me to a town called Bardejov which is about 30 minutes from Presov and very near Poland. Anyway, they wanted to do this on a Monday departing during the lunch hour. Confident that my supervisor would say 'no,' I was very surprised when she agreed. She referred to it as sort of a 'field trip,' a field trip that I knew would cut into my personal time in the evening and cause me to cancel a previous engagement. I tried to psyche myself up by thinking about the fact that this city is a UNESCO site and should be interesting to see.

One hilarious thing did happen prior to the trip. They asked me if I had any swimming trunks. I said that I didn't and they said that was okay because I didn't need any clothes in the 'spa.' Now, hold on a second, "you mean I have to be naked in front of other people" I asked them. They said 'yes' and this really shocked me. Anyway, they were joking about the spa but it terrified me at the time and everyone had a good laugh at this.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia10BardejovTrip

Now, for some pictures:

#1 A beautiful row of houses in the downtown area. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy that day.

#2 The main church downtown

#3 Me, with a few of the students at a traditional village

#4 Another picture with students . . . the one in the middle's nickname is 'Shrek' but I'm not sure why.

#5 Inside a traditional home

As I said, I should be sending some Budapest stuff in a few days. Russ

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Family Justice, Djibouti Style

I had to wait a day to post this entry for fear you'd think it was an April Fool's joke. The other day, one of my coworkers requested a day off because he had to take care of a family problem. Once his commander heard the problem, he immediately gave him permission to go. It turns out that this guy's brother had been guilty of domestic violence against his wife. Therefore, according to Djiboutian custom, the guilty party's family had to administer justice to him. This is why the brother was leaving for the day.

Well, the punishment consists of the following. First, the guilty party has to go to the family residence. He also has to bring his own rope to be tied down with. Once he's tied down, he will be beaten with sticks by all male family members. Then, a sheep will be sacrificed and its entrails will be drained onto the guilty party's upper body. I have to ask myself at this point, what did the sheep do wrong? I think this is a way of purifying the body after such a heinous act. Anyway, after all of this, the perp has to make a solemn pledge never to commit the crime again. I don't think anyone would doubt his sincerity!!

I know it sounds barbaric, but if you've lived here a while, you realize that these customs have developed for a reason. The punishment is so severe that the wife's family is satisfied and there's no risk of conflict between the two families. The husband can't complain because it was his own family that punished him. The courts are happy because they're overworked and ineffectual anyway.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Another Goodbye Party

Last week, the embassy staff held a 'goodbye' luncheon for me and another staffer who was leaving soon. We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant here in Djibouti which was creatively called 'The Vietnamese Restaurant.' The food was actually quite good maybe because it was free! I had chicken and cashews which is similar to a Thai dish I've eaten before. Anyway, the best part was the gifts. I got a certificate of appreciation from the State Department and a clay plate with a map of Djibouti on it. I also got a cap, coffee mug, and shirt all Djibouti-related. The shirt had writing on it that said, "Property of Djibouti." Those of you who have lived here can appreciate the humor/horror in that statement.

I continue to take pictures of Djibouti but will not post any more travelogues of Djibouti till I return to the US in three weeks. I'm just too busy right now. Of course, I'll continue to post TLs that were previously written such as the Slovakia ones for example.

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (9) The Pieniny Region

Written on October 6, 2006

Well, last weekend I went to an area called Pieniny to go rafting. The town is on the Slovak/Polish border and is idyllic as are so many other places here. We missed the rafts at 11am so we had some time to explore the area by foot. Finally, at 1245, we were able to board a raft and ride down the river for about two hours. It was much less demanding than the death-defying feat I did the week before. When we finished the raft trip, we had a choice of riding the bus back to our original location or renting bikes and biking back. We chose the latter and I'm so happy we did. We were able to follow a bike trail back and stop and enjoy nature whenever we wanted. It was really a great day. Please see descriptions of the pictures below.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia9ThePinenyRegion

#1 Here is the 'river.' On the right is Slovakia and on the left is Poland.

#2 The bridge to Poland.

#3 On the water.

#4 Our navigator. He spent the whole tour telling mother-in-law jokes rather than explaining what we were seeing.

#5 One of my friends from Presov.

Okay, let me know what you think, Russ

Sunday, March 23, 2008

To Give or NOT to Give--That is the Question . . .

Whenever I've traveled/lived in a foreign country, I've always tried to be culturally sensitive to the practices/beliefs of said country. I'm not a big fan of the relativist argument, but I also don't believe that one culture is inherently superior to another. I guess I try to take the middle road for the most part.

Still, having lived in Djibouti for several months now, I'm starting to view 'culture' differently than I ever did before. I will use the example of foreign aid and how it's affected the culture to illustrate this new perspective. Here in Djibouti, there seems to be a certain 'dependency' on outside assistance that has developed at all levels and this dependency is stifling any solutions to the real problems that continue to exist. In essence, the dependency has become a part of the culture to the point that there is an entitlement mentality permeating society. I see it every day and it has become very tiresome!!

Am I viewing this through the relative characteristics of my own culture and being negative as a result? I don't think so. My litmus test for identifying negative aspects of a culture outside my own is this--What is the objective of the country/people? Do certain cultural practices efficiently achieve this objective? In this case, I think one of the goals of Djibouti is to develop a strong economy that provides opportunities for its citizens. I also believe that the governments providing assistance to Djibouti have a similar goal (although some might debate this). Does the dependency I mentioned above reach this goal more efficiently than taking responsibility for one's own future (according to the Western view)? If one cultural aspect (dependency) is less effective at reaching the common goal than another, I believe this is truly a negative element of the culture and it fails my test.

So, what's the practical solution? As always, there are no easy fixes but I would hope that future aid is somehow tied to changes that will cause the relevant objective to be achieved. To use an old saying, "it's better to teach someone how to fish than to simply give them fish" or something like that.

Then again, maybe my judgment has been clouded by my ridiculous Protestant work ethic!

Russ

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Disaster of Epic Proportions!!

A few days ago, I took my usual stroll downtown. It was about 6pm and something seemed out of place. Restaurants that were usually empty or had very few customers were packed. I had never seen so many Djiboutians eating out before. Because of the cost, most Djiboutians prefer to eat at home. Anyway, the difference was big enough for me to take notice and mention it at work the next day.

Well, there was definitely something to what I saw. It seems that that day, the airplane responsible for bringing 'Khat' from Ethiopia had had mechanical problems. Therefore, no fresh Khat was delivered! I thought there would be other planes, but apparently, only one plane is dedicated to bringing the supply in every day. To provide an analogy, it's like all the planes, ships, and other vehicles that bring drugs into the US were somehow stopped. Can you imagine the commotion? Anyway, the custom when the Khat is not delivered is to eat out at a restaurant with your friends. It's sort of like having the munchies without using the marijuana.

Something scary that someone told me later . . . without Khat, Djibouti would probably have daily riots. My acquaintance stated that "Khat equals Peace!" As far as I'm concerned, bring the Khat on!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy Part 3

Taken on September 9, 2006

Here are the last pictures from my Mt. Rysy climb. It hurt terribly to climb it, but I gained some wonderful memories in the process.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia8MtRysyPart3

#1 The view was beautiful but I really wasn't admiring it at the time. Honestly, I was looking for a place to be buried!!

#2 At the summit! I didn't realize at that moment that the worst was yet to come.

#3 My blood brother (because we sweated so much together that day) 'Palo' at the summit. He had me by 15 years! He's a helicopter pilot and I was wondering why he didn't bring it that day. Oh, be sure to check out the beautiful lakes below him.

#4 Here, we were coming down and my body was really aching from all the pounding.

#5 About halfway up or down, you have to use chains to navigate the mountain. I felt like I was the weakest link at this point.

What a wonderful adventure! I honestly want to climb this mountain again some day.

Next weeks TL will include pictures of the 'Pineny' region on the Polish border. We went rafting and then rode bicycles back upriver. It was relaxing especially compared to the previous week.

Please keep checking back in, Russ

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

When exactly is someone rich?

Back home, when we say someone is rich, we usually think of a magic number such as having one million dollars. Here, in Djibouti, 'rich' has an entirely different meaning. I didn't understand that until very recently. In the past, one of my coworkers kept referring to someone as being rich, but I just couldn't see it. The individual in question drove a beat up car and didn't seem to have a particularly good salary. In a developing country, I think of rich as those who can afford almost anything and like to flaunt it to the hoi polloi.

But, I now know that 'rich' has a different meaning in Djibouti. Basically, a rich person is someone who can afford to pay the rent and buy food every month without worrying about where the money will come from. Money beyond that ability is almost irrelevant. That explains why even though I've been pleading poverty since I've been here, people still refer to me as rich!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's Official!!

I got my itinerary today and know the date/time of my departure from Djibouti. I'm scheduled to fly out of Djibouti City on Saturday, 19 April and arrive in San Antonio, Texas the next day. I will be flying Air France (Oh, No!) to Paris and switching over to Delta (Yikes!) for the trip to SA via Atlanta. The layovers are about three hours at each stop which is perfect for international connections.

When it first hit me that I'm actually leaving this country to possibly never come back, I felt a little down. However, I consoled myself, as I always do, with the knowledge that many great adventures lie ahead. Even if I stay in the US awhile, I can travel to many exciting places. Right now, I'm fantasizing about hopping into an SUV and driving due north of Texas. I could drive all the way to the Canadian border and then drop back down to see my alma mater, Notre Dame. I just wish it were football season!! Then, it would be perfect.

More TLs coming later in the week.

Russ

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy Part 2

Taken on September 9, 2006

Here are some more pictures from the Mt. Rysy ascent!! For the full story, refer to the previous Mt. Rysy TL.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia8MtRysyPart2

Picture #1--A beautiful lake about halfway up the mountain. Unfortunately, I could not fully appreciate it at that time.

#2--The same lake below me.

#3--The restaurant/hotel at about 2,200 meters!!

#4--Inside the same building.

#5--Getting closer to the summit.

I will put one more set of pictures up next week for this adventure!

It could only happen to me!!

On weekdays, my usual routine is to drive out to Camp Le Monier for lunch. Before I enter the camp, I have to make a right turn at an intersection that's begging for an accident to occur. I've often wondered why I never saw one at that location. Well today, they finally had one at least, I think they did. As I approached the intersection, I noticed that two taxis had stopped in front of me. In front of them, were a fire truck and an ambulance being manned but what I assume were Frenchmen. There was also a crowd of people surrounding the 'incident.' I sat there for at least 15 minutes trying to discern what was going on and how long I would have to wait. Finally, someone started directing the traffic forward. As I got close to freedom, a herd of goats crossed in front of me and lingered there for another 15 minutes. Cars behind me were blasting their horns but the goats (and their shephard) were oblivious to the delay they were causing. I pulled out a newspaper and began reading. I finally got out of there but never did see exactly what had happened.

I would have killed for a camera to take a picture of that scene!!

Two rules of thumb to survive in Djibouti: (1) Livestock always has the right of way, and (2) Bring a magazine or newspaper with you as you never know when you might be delayed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Weekend Postings

This weekend (Thursday and Friday for me), I will post more pictures pertaining to Mt. Rysy. I'm also going to subdue my fear of the African wilderness and venture out once again to gather pictures for a Djiboutian TL.

One of my coworkers has promised to take me to visit some nomads before I leave. He will translate for me. I plan to ask a lot of questions and take a lot of pictures. Should be interesting!

I've been told that I have a tentative departure date of 19 April. It could be earlier than this but not later. It will be surreal returning to the US.

More later,

Russ

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy

Written on September 10, 2006

I must really care about you guys to be sending this letter today. Why? Well, every muscle in my body is aching. I've been popping aspirin all day, but it doesn't seem to help much. It hurts to stand up and I'm walking around in slow motion. When I went to bed last night, I alternated between having violent chills and sweating profusely. What has caused this, you ask? Yesterday, I climbed Mount Rysi (2,600 meters) and it was the most physically demanding thing I've every done. From start to finish, we spent about 10 hours going up and down. I'm going to try and narrarate what happened including pictures. I'll ty to send even more pictures in a follow-up to this e-mail.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia8MtRysy

So, about a month ago, some students of mine asked me if I would like to climb 'Rysi' with them. At the time, I thought how hard can that be and agreed. We planned the trip and traveled to the High Tatras yesterday. Mount Rysi is the second highest mountain in this range and the highest one you can climb without hiring a guide and having special equipment. You can see the mountain range in picture #1. Our hike began by walking through a forest and was quite easy at first. This was deceptive, however, because we soon started going uphill on a more dangerous path. In picture #2, you can see some of us before the agony set in on our faces. Another thing you should notice about this picture, the trail was composed entirely of rocks all the way up. Our feet took a tremendous pounding especially on the way down. In the next picture, you can see a mountain lake, but we are still at the stage of weaving in and out before starting the ascent.

You can see some scenery as we began the climb in pictures #4 and #5. As we were climbing, I never had any problems with my breathing even though we were at higher altitude. But, I really had problems with my legs. After a while, they were screaming for mercy! We climbed and climbed and climbed. The hardest thing was that you had to be mentally focused in addition to dealing with the physical. One false step and you could have a serious injury. My hiking boots saved me numerous times by keeping my ankles from turning when I misstepped.

At the 2200 meter mark, we reached what the Slovaks call 'refuge' but what I would call base camp one. I barely made it there and could not imagine climbing to the summit. Fortunately, we took some time to rest and eat cabbage soup. The rest combined with the food gave me the energy to continue. In picture #6, you can see the summit ahead. This picture does not in any way convey how difficult it was to climb up there. Also, a lot of the climbers had spent the night at refuge and were climbing the last 300 meters on one night's rest. Finally, in picture #7, you see me at the summit sitting on the official highest point.

I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point, but didn't realize that the worst was yet to come. Going downhill was absolute torture. You could feel pain in your knees and back every time your foot hit a stone. Also, you had to be more careful about slipping. Believe it or not, there have been seven deaths on this mountain so far this year. Most of them resulted from bad weather or people leaving the trail and getting caught in avalanches. I was determined to survive especially after all the pain I had endured to get to that point!!

The next few pictures are just pictures of me during the descent. I think I have more interesting pictures that I can send you in the next few days. Anyway, I don't know if you can see it but I was absolutely exhausted. We spent the last hour in the dark retracing the steps that we had made during the morning. Finally, at 8pm, we made it to the car.

Well, I'll send a follow-up to this in a few days with more details of the climb. I am ready for work tomorrow and will not be taking a sick day I'm proud to say. Enjoy, Russ

Monday, March 3, 2008

Travelogue Japan (7) The Long Goodbye

Written on August 4, 2007

Hi, Everyone! I hope you're all doing well. This will probably be my last entry (and a short one) from Japan as I'm due to return in the fall. I can't believe I have to leave this wonderful place. Ingmar Bergman, who died recently, once said that he could not make another movie after his last one made 20 years ago. He said this because he had derived so much satisfaction from the last one that any other movie he made would be a disappointment. That's the way I feel about Japan. I may never travel to another country again for fear of a letdown. I guess I will have to force myself to travel in the future!

Anyway, my coworkers threw a 'goodbye' party for me this week and I had a blast. I got some wonderful gifts, a personal seal with my name in Chinese characters and a summer kimono to name a few. My colleagues insisted that I try on the top and I did so as you can see in the picture. The others in the picture are the Japanese instructors.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan7TheLongGoodbye

At the end of the party, I started to head out the door still wearing my gift. One of the instructors who was walking to the subway with me strongly suggested that I take it off. I said that I wanted to wear it home. She then said that she wouldn't walk with me if I didn't remove it. So much for trying to immerse myself in the culture!!

Okay, please let me know what you think. Russ

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Six Weeks Remaining . . .

. . . till I return to the US. The time is going by too fast. Still, I'm looking forward to going home for a while. I'll be leaving here in mid-April and taking three weeks vacation. The first week, I'll just chill out in San Antonio and try to recover from the jet lag. The second week, I'll fly up and visit my family in West Virginia. The final week, I'll begin to mentally prepare myself for the return to work. I will feel like a new employee learning all the rules and regulations again and trying to adapt to the stress. All in a day's work!

I'm not a creative person by nature and it takes me a while to figure these things out. But, I have started to post photos of the current travelogue in the slideshow area. In that way, you can preview them while reading the story. I'll continue including the link to the web album so the photos can still be accessed at a later time.

I'm still trying to figure out where I'll be sent next. I'll post here when I find out.

Russ

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (7) Plum Jam in Slovakia

Written on September 4, 2006

Hi, Everyone!!

Well, this is becoming a recurring theme for me . . . I promise to stop sending these for a couple of weeks and then I break down and send another one the very next week. Here is my dilemma, there is something going on every week and if I don't send stories now, I'll never send them! So here goes . . .

A word of warning before I start, there is no way in the world that this version could be as exciting as last week's in Prague. Please forgive me but I can't jet out of the country every weekend!! All I can promise is that it WILL be different.

Now, let me recap. The weekend before last, as you all know, I went to Prague. It was great but also very tiring so I decided not to go to Budapest as originally planned for this last weekend. Once they heard, I knew my friends would schedule something in lieu of this and they talked about going rafting. However, this was never mentioned later in the week and I got my hopes up that the torrid pace they had set for me was finally slowing down. So, I went home Friday evening thinking about how I would enjoy myself (ALONE!). It wasn't meant to be however. I had been home about an hour when one of my friends called and suggested that I come out and visit them in Velky Saris. This is a suburb of Presov and has only about 5,000 people. I got on the bus and was there in 20 minutes.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia7PlumJamInSlovakia

Upon arriving, I saw an interesting sight. On the ground was a vat and two buckets. Inside the VAT were plums that my friends were pulling the seeds out of. They were then putting the 'seedless' plums into another bucket. I sat down and helped them for a few hours. Picture number one is terrible because it was taken with a cellphone after dark, but the next day, I came prepared with my camera. Still, you can see the plums in one bucket and the seeds in another.

So, the next day (Saturday), I went out a little earlier and helped with stage two. This is the stage when all the plums are put in a boiling pot with only water. They are then stirred until they become a thick paste that is eventually used for jam. This can take anywhere up to 12 hours and people take turns stirring the plums. I think you saw this process in another picture I sent before. Anyway, in the next two pictures, you can see us sitting around the fire socializing while the oldest gentleman is doing all the work!! Really, the socializing is what it's all about as one can buy the jam at any store.

On Sunday, some more friends invited me out to dinner. I was off today (Monday), but my coworkers insisted that I come into work and have lunch with them. When is this going to let up? Don't get me wrong, I like the attention but I need a break every now and then. My friends/colleagues seem a bit obsessed and I don't know how to deal with it. Usually, I'm the one who's obsessed with others!! Any advice from those of you who share this problem?

So, what's on the agenda for this weekend? I'm scheduled to go to the Vysoke Tatry (High Tatras) with two of my students. The only thing they have guaranteed me is that I won't need any special equipment for the climbing. This should be interesting for you since I haven't sent any pictures of mountains yet. In September, I should be visiting a Roma school, a university in Kosice and traveling to Budapest if I don't get talked out of it again. Should be fun!

That's all I have for now. Hope you're all enjoying these stories, even those of you who never write!!

Take care, Russ

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Travelogue Djibouti (4) Near the Beach

Written on December 14, 2007

Hi! I hope this travelogue isn't boring compared to the last one. I did try to include more dangerous animals and you will see from the pictures that the level of danger continues to increase. Do you remember the person who followed grizzlies and was eventually mauled to death? They made a documentary from his footage but I can't recall the name of it right now. Anyway, I hope to avoid his fate!

Not too much new to report here. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the support I receive from the embassy. Unlike previous MTTs, most of my acquaintances here are Westerners who either work at the embassy or Camp Le Monier. I also meet a lot of people just passing through on TDY usually at the Monday night basketball games. Anyway, I used to think you could only get visas at an embassy but I now know there's a whole social network to be had there.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. For my profession, this has to be the best job in the world. If you want to live in the US, you can. If you want to travel, you can. It's the best of both worlds.

Now, for the pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti4NearTheBeach

#1 This beast was preparing for a charge at me!! Fortunately, he seemed to be scratching himself against a tree and this may have been all that saved me.

#2 I don't know, I thought you might want to see a picture of my rental car. It's a Nissan 'Sunny.' Have you ever heard of this model? It's definitely a step up for me as those of you who have seen my car know.

Okay, let me know what you think. The next TL will got out in a few weeks. Take care, Russ

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Travelogue Japan (6) A Local Temple

Written July 15, 2007.

Wow! It's been a long time since my last letter. My only excuse is that I've been so busy living life that I haven't had time to write. Work continues to be great and I still whistle when I wake up on a weekday morning. My favorite saying is 'TGIM' (Thank god it's Monday!). One of my coworkers told me that she's never met anyone so enthusiastic in her life. I tell her that it's only because I'm in Japan.

I've read several stories with a common theme . . . a westerner inadvertently ends up in the Far East and is at first viewed as a complete outsider. As time passes though, he earns the trust of his hosts and gradually gains access to the mysteries of the Orient. I have finally entered that stage. It feels as if the keys to the kingdom have been handed to me. I would love to reveal some of these secrets to all of you, but then I would lose my exalted position.

One thing I can tell you though, in a Japanese office, the higher the employee's rank, the closer he sits to the boss. It took me four months to learn this valuable secret. Don't you think it was worth the wait?

Anyway, here are some pictures of a trip I took several weeks ago. We went to a local temple and spent the afternoon. Maybe I'm crazy, but I felt like I had a heightened sense of the nature around me.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan6ALocalTemple

#1 Some fish in a pool near the temple, #2 The temple itself, #3 Two of my coworkers

As usual, feedback is most appreciated.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Where will the wind carry me next?

Time is ticking away. I have only seven weeks remaining here in Africa. I've reached the point where I've started to wonder where I'll go to next. Perhaps I won't go anywhere and will be stuck in the US for a while!! I guess Texas wouldn't be too bad but I wonder if my travels there would generate much interest on this site. Still, I'm not going to worry too much about it. I'm fortunate in that there are a lot of travel opportunities in my job. I'm sure I'll be selected for some country.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (6) Prague Part 2

Written on August 29, 2006

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia6PraguePart2

Okay, to continue the story after passing out on the bed last night . . . I think picture #1 accurately conveys how I felt after the long trip to Prague though I'm not sure if I'm giving or receiving injury. We saw this statue as we departed the complex and the changing of the guard in #2. Heading back down to the city center, we got another wonderful view of the old city in #3. These sights started to bring me out of my coma and I got a burst of energy that recurred off and on throughout the day.

Let me make one more observation before I continue with the story. Prague is an incredibly expensive city especially in the downtown area. I heard that there were cheaper places that the locals went to, but I never saw them. For me, it's just a matter of principle not wanting to pay such high prices. For the locals, however, it's a matter of survival. Anyway, the prices are the only negative thing I have to say about the city.

Have you ever heard of the Charles Bridge? It's approximately nine hundred years old and only open to pedestrians. I wish I had a better picture of it, but it's 500 meters long and difficult to get an angle on. I did take a picture (from the bridge) of a tributary and some quaint houses in the area (#4).

Now, at this point, it was starting to get a little late in the afternoon but we continued to forge on. As a matter of fact, we had made an appointment with a cousin of one of my friends for 6pm. I sort of dreaded this because it probably meant that we would be out till the wee hours of the night. But, when I met 'Palo,' I was pleasantly surprised. He is a very interesting guy (a chemical engineer) and speaks English quite well. Not only that, but he offered to take us on a night tour of the downtown area. Following are some of the pictures that I took:

#5 A city theater
#6 part of the national opera building

Now, for some interesting asides . . . there is a heavy drinking culture in this part of Europe. Fortunately, not being a heavy drinker, I have developed some interesting survival skills to avoid this. First of all, I always order one beer without protest and drink it at a normal pace. Then, a second beer is always ordered FOR me. I spend the next few hours sipping this one while acting incredibly drunk. There are those that might say I'm just presenting my usual personality, but I'll take anything that works!! So far, I have managed to avoid hangovers and at the same time, keep the local population happy.

You know, people are pretty much the same all over the world. As the night drew to a close, my friends kept insisting that I might be tired and need to go to bed. I kept insisting that I was okay. I knew that they were trying to use me as a way to excuse themselves from the festivities. It was really funny when they started pointing out how awful I looked and that I might even need to go to a hospital. I wouldn't let them get away with it, however. I refused to be the party pooper!

Okay, there should be only one more part to this trip and I'll try to send it tomorrow. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Djibouti--The Hotel Kempinski

I am currently living in a hotel (which will go nameless) in Djibouti and am quite comfortable. Although it's not the nicest hotel in the city, it has everything I need including cable tv and wireless internet. The other day, a colleague of mine invited me over to The Hotel Kempinski (the nicest hotel) for one of their 'theme' buffets. These are quite popular in this part of the world. Some nights, you have Arabic food, other nights you have Asian, and there is even a Tex-Mex night at this hotel. That was the night I chose hoping the food would remind me of all my friends in San Antonio. Anyway, the food was good but not great especially considering the price. Although it was 'all you can eat,' the price of DJF 10,000 (roughly $56 American) shocked me! There was no way I could get my money's worth if I wanted to stay on my diet. This reminded me of a phenomonen that I've encountered in developing countries before. It's as if there are two economies. One economy sells only the items that the locals want and the prices are therefore, lower. The other economy sells food, clothes, etc. that only expats would desire and the prices reflect this sometimes being higher than in one's home country. Thailand is probably the most extreme example of this. If you want to see a temple, you pay nothing as a Thai but the equivalent of five dollars as a tourist. They call it dual pricing!!

Anyway, if this is all I have to complain about then I am very fortunate indeed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Travelogue Japan (5) The Golden Temple

Written on May 27, 2007

Finally! I got around to writing again. Sorry, but I've been busy both at work and on the weekends. I will try to be better about writing in the future.

Well, I've done a lot in the last month but I think the highlight was my trip to Kyoto. I went there with some friends and so, I didn't have to worry about the logistics of getting there. They figured out everything for me. We departed from the Nagoya train station which, by the way, is literally the biggest train station in both Japan AND the world! I read that approximately 1.2 million people use it every day. We took the bullet train which was quite an experience. What should have been a three-hour trip by car took about 45 minutes by this train. It was a little expensive but very convenient.

I really enjoyed Kyoto, but felt a little rushed all day. Getting around town was difficult because of the crowds and so, I didn't get a chance to see all I wanted. I did see two temples that are quite famous, but will focus on what's referred to as 'The Golden Temple.' I will definitely visit Kyoto again before I leave Japan.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan5TheGoldenTemple

In picture number one, you can see this temple in the distance surrounded by water. In the second picture, you can see the same temple from behind. You can tell by looking at the water that it had just started sprinkling. It lasted for only five minutes but seemed appropriate at the time.

Some more observations . . .

*I really, really like my coworkers! Some of them were a little shy at first, but have overcome that shyness as time progressed. It's a pleasure to go to work every day.

*The students . . . well, I've spoken of them before, but they continue to impress. The other day, I was in the main office and noticed that someone had shut my office door. I could also hear some kind of noise coming from inside. When I went to investigate, I found a student vacuuming my carpet! Not only that, but he was a major! I couldn't believe it! When I asked him why he, a major, was doing this, he simply replied that he was a student and his rank didn't matter. It was his duty to clean my office. Gosh! I've had students in the past that made me happy if they took their pizza boxes with them when they left class!! DLI really needs to move to Japan.

*When I go downtown, I sometimes like to conduct an experiment. I pull out a little pocket map of Nagoya and start looking at it. In a very short time, someone ALWAYS stops to ask if I need help or directions. This happens without fail. Sometimes, it happens immediately and sometimes it happens after only a few minutes but it always happens. The people here are so polite. I haven't always had positive experiences in Asia but Japan has been positive without exception.

Gosh! I've had to rush this segment a little because I'm going hiking today with some of my coworkers. Don't worry though! I've heard the hill is only 300 meters so it shouldn't be as strenuous as the one I climbed in Slovakia. I'll tell you more later.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Time is counting down

Well, in exactly two months, I will be leaving Djibouti. I've been here four months already and I don't know where the time went. I've been thinking about what I need to do/see in my remaining time here. In the past, I've always revisited places overseas that I've lived but I can't see that happening with Djibouti. First of all, this country is not really on the beaten path of tourism. It's pretty out of the way actually. Also, the cost of a ticket would be outrageous if I had to pay for it myself. Finally, I don't see myself having the time to return what with the job I have and the travel it requires. So, this may be the last hurrah for me in this part of the world.

I'm going to try and post a new Japan travelogue sometime today. Be sure to check it out!

Also, a new poll is going up to determine which country should be featured in the next slideshow. Your vote would be appreciated.

Again, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this humble blog.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Travelogue Djibouti (3) Arta

Written November 29, 2007

Hi, Everyone! First of all, please read this letter before you look at the pictures. One of them needs some explanation and I don't want anyone to be unduly frightened before they hear it.

Okay, I got that out of the way. Well, I continue to enjoy my time over here and am adapting to the cultural differences one faces anytime s/he goes overseas. This has been eased by the warm welcome I've received from the embassy. I've also really gotten into running even more so than before. I ran 10k the other day in 44:15. Not fast, but ok for an older gentleman. I started running a few times a week with some friends of mine. I'm also playing basketball every week at the embassy with some of the staff. One thing, when running on the road, these East African marathon runners zoom by me like I'm standing still! For fun, I try to keep up but I'm basically running at a full sprint to do so. They have such a natural, long stride that there's no way I could ever match them.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti3Arta

Now, for the pictures. In the first picture, I'm standing on a hillside in a town called 'Arta.' It's about 30 minutes driving from Djibouti city but a very nice place with cooler temperatures. In the background, you should be able to see the sea where the hills stop. Picture #2 is the one that needs an explanation. As most of you know, I'm a real 'thrillseeker.' I've climbed massive mountains in Slovakia. I've entered forbidden temples in Japan. Now, I've encountered dangerous animals on the East African savannah! I approached these beasts with caution but also a determination to get the perfect photo. I look forward to your praise concerning my bravery. You may now look at the picture. Until the next travelogue, Russ

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (6) Prague

Written on August 28, 2006

Hi, Everyone!!

Well, these travelogues are definitely getting out of control, but where do I stop? Do I wait several weeks to send pictures of Prague? It's a vicious cycle!

As all of you know, I went to Prague the last weekend. I would have preferred to have more time, but it was the only weekend that was convenient for my friends. So, I put aside my 'needs' and went along. The trip was a marathon to say the least. I had a great time, but suffered immensely for it. You'll see what I mean as the story progresses.

We left Friday night at 2135 and arrived in Prague at 0700 the next morning. The plan was to sleep on the bus and be refreshed for a tour of the city. Sometimes, things don't work out the way you plan them. The bus we took made airplane 'economy' seem like a seat in first class. I think my knees were pressed against my chest most of the trip. I will say I got an hour's sleep, but I'm rounding up from a lower amount. My friends suffered equally. You can see the pain in some of the pictures of me!

Upon arrival, we took the subway to the city center. It's nice to have friends who speak the language and know how to get around. I can just shut my mind down and enjoy the sites. Before I write further, I just want to say that nothing prepares you for Prague except maybe Vienna. Actually, they used Prague to film 'Amadeus' instead of Vienna because Prague retained much of its old world charm whereas Vienna was considered too 'modern.' Anyway, I have said before that my words can't describe the beauty I've seen and only pictures can show it. In Prague's case, I don't think the pictures accomplish this either!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia6Prague

The first area we visited includes Prague castle and Hradchany. Essentially, this is a huge complex on a hill that encompasses the castle, churches, etc. In picture #1, you can see a view of the old city below as we climbed up. Number 2 shows you cobblestone streets and the church looming in the background. Number 3 is the same church as seen from below. You can see me in one of the courtyards in picture 4! It's dark so you can't see the exhaustion on my face! But, you can in picture 5 as well as in one of my friend's faces. This last picture was taken on the Charles bridge, the most famous in Prague. It's closed to traffic and only open to pedestrians. I'll try to include better pictures of it next time.

Well, I just realized that I'm too exhausted to continue so I'm going to break this one up into two or three parts. I have sixty-one pictures total and a lot more stories to tell about this trip so it's better that I don't push it tonight. Be sure to give me feedback as usual because this is what keeps me going.

More later,

Russ

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Issas and Afars

When we first begin living in a new country/culture, we often think everything is immediately self-evident. Then, after a while, you realize there are mysteries lurking beneath the surface that only time reveals. When I first came to Djibouti, I categorized everyone I met as simply Djiboutian. As time passed, however, I was informed that there were two main tribes in Djibouti, the Issa and the Afar with the former being the majority. Later, I learned that there had often been conflict between the two including a civil war in the early '90s. It's difficult to get a lot of information about this conflict because members of both tribes are sensitive to discussing it probably for fear of what could happen again.

How does this affect everyday life? Well, prior to taking my trip to Lake Assal last week, I asked a few of my 'Issa' friends to go with me. They politely declined saying they would encounter 'trouble' if they went to that part of Djibouti. Apparently, the area around the lake is predominantly Afar and they would not appreciate an Issa being there. When I asked about going by myself, they assured me that I would have no problems. Isn't that ironic? A Westerner is safer in that part of Djibouti than one of its own citizens? Anyway, they were right. I had no problems at all.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Travelogue Japan (4) The Workplace

Written on April 30, 2007

I hope you're all doing well. This entry will be a relatively short one with no pictures. However, the next one should be laden with them as I am going to Kyoto/Nara with a friend later in the week. I'll write it up as soon as I can. Until then, I'll just make some more observations.

Remember how I said that the work environment here is very regimented? Well, I found out that it is even more so than I thought. The new female teachers are leaving for basic training next week! Yep, all new employees must go through military training before they begin their teaching. It's designed to familiarize them with the military life of the students they'll be teaching. They will be gone for one month and my students told me that it is slightly less difficult than what they had to endure. Goodness!! When I expressed my surprise in the office, another teacher showed me pictures of her previous incarceration there.

Speaking of the students, every student fills out an evaluation form at the end of his/her course. One of my students wrote that he was concerned I was working too hard! He said this because I've been inviting students into my office during my lunch period and other free time. I'm not doing this to be a martyr; I just really enjoy being around THESE students. Believe me, if every student at DLI were like these, there wouldn't be a need for SLT. Teachers would be locking their classroom doors at 1435 to prevent the students from leaving.

I have to admit that at least a part of my work ethic here derives from a desire to keep up with my Japanese colleagues. They are unbelievable! Just the other day, I wanted to ask one of them a question, but she was staring incessantly at her computer screen and so, I didn't want to disturb her. When I went back a few hours later, she was still staring! Yet, I noticed that the screen had not changed at all from the time I was there before. Hmmmmm . . . have I discovered a flaw in the Matrix? This will require further investigation.

I am really getting tired of the Japanese habit of improving on everything that we do in America. You know the 'Big Mac?' Well, in the local McDonalds here, they have something called a'MegaMac.' Instead of two beef patties, there are four! I don't know how you would eat it exactly since it would take a crocodile to digest the thing. I just know that it's bigger and better than what we have in the US. I guess this is my only complaint about the Japan. They are just too good!

I finally figured it out. I'm not actually in Japan. I went to sleep one night in Texas and am still dreaming. No place in reality could be this perfect. I feel like I'm wading through the Elyseian Fields.

More later, Russ

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (5) Saris Castle

Written on August 23, 2006

Hello everyone!!

Apologies from the beginning . . .I know I promised not to send out another report for at least a few weeks. However, I'm going to Prague this weekend and I couldn't figure out a way to squeeze these pictures in prior to sending those. So, here you go. Hit 'delete' if you don't want to see them.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia5SarisCastle

Last Saturday, my friends and I visited a castle called Saris Castle. It is near Presov but a bit of a climb up a hill. We started walking to the hill (from one of the suburbs) around 1030am. We got to the top at about noon. On the way up, there was some beautiful scenery (see picture #1). I held my own with the younger climbers and was quite proud as they commented on the physical ability of such an old person. At the top, I was able to take some pictures of the ruins below (#2). In the next picture (#3), you can see the gate (without the drawbridge) that was the entry to the castle area. Also, on MY right is the supervisor where I work.

After taking in the surroundings, we had a barbecue on the castle grounds. It was quite simple really, some sausages cooked over a hole in the ground with a grill on top, but it was a lot of fun. However, later in the afternoon, my friends started getting edgy and suggested that we head back down the hill. I thought that they were afraid of getting back too late, but then they told me a story. Apparently, about 500 years ago, a young noblewoman had committed suicide by jumping off the castle walls. She did this because she had been promised to a prince but had already fallen in love with a peasant (the story of my life). Anyway, people say that she wanders the ruins at night looking for her lost love. They call her "The White Lady." To tell you the truth, I was more concerned about vampires considering how close we are to the Carpathian mountain range!

So, we headed back down to the suburb (Velky Saris) that we started from. On the way to the bus stop, we ran into some people my friends knew who happened to be making plum jam at the time. They do this by putting the plums in a hot cauldron and stirring for 20 hours. I was told that if you stop for one minute, it will ruin them so everyone stirs in shifts to prevent this (#4). And, of course, I had to do my part (#5)!

It was a great day as you can see. On Sunday evening, I went bowling. This sport is relatively new to Slovakia. Yesterday, I had a tour of the city with one of my friends. I had made the mistake of telling the story of how I got lost on the wrong bus. This friend insisted on buying a bunch of bus tickets and taking me through the routes of each important bus. Oh well, I guess it could be worse.

I hope you enjoyed this tour. Please let me know what you think. Pictures from Prague are coming next week.

All the best, Russ

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Travelogue Djibouti (6) Lake Assal

This morning, I drove out to Lake Assal. This is one of the more famous tourist areas in Djibouti and I had been planning to visit for a long time. The lake happens to be the lowest point in Africa at 155 meters below sea level. It also has the highest concentration of salt in the word, even more than the Dead Sea. Based on what I’d heard, I was very anxious to explore this area.

The trip out was pretty uneventful since I had driven the same road several times before. I had even memorized the potholes and was able to avoid most of them. I drove for about 100 kilometers W/NW of Djibouti City, the capital and arrived about 90 minutes after starting. I could have gone faster if not for the condition of the road.

Before I visit a new area, I always have a preconceived notion of what it looks like. Then, when I actually arrive, I am either pleasantly surprised or disappointed. Today, I was definitely pleased when I first glanced at the lake. But, let me take you through this experience via pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti6LakeAssal

#1 Some of the terrain on the way out, about 10km from the lake
#2 A small island in the lake
#3 The road that encircled it
#4 A wide-angle view
#5 Again, the lake
#6 ‘Old Reliable,’ I really need an SUV!
#7 The coastline
#8 Deep Water!
#9 Here, you can see the salt close up.
#10 Low clouds
#11 I felt like I was on the path to Mordor, but I didn’t see Sam or Frodo.
#12 On my way back, a dust storm is kicking up.

Again, let me say that I was really impressed with this area and the pictures don’t do it justice. I wanted so badly to take off my shoes and wade out into the water, but I was warned never to do this. I guess in this part of Africa, there is a waterborne parasite that can enter through the skin and cause damage to internal organs. I certainly do not want that experience.

For those of you who worry about my safety after seeing me on such dangerous outings, please don’t. I like to think of myself as the ‘Forrest Gump’ of Africa.

Until the next TL, enjoy your travels!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Upcoming Events

I just thought I'd inform everyone about what to expect from this blog in the next few days. On Wednesday, I'm going to post TLs for Slovakia, Japan and Djibouti. These TLs were written in the past, but are still interesting I do believe. Also, I'm going to Lake Assal over the weekend. It's supposed to be one of the lowest/hottest places on earth. This should provide the opportunity for some great pictures and a recent story.

I'm a little concerned because national elections are being held next weekend. There's been a lot of bad luck with elections in this part of Africa lately (ref Kenya). One of my coworkers did reassure me, however, when I brought up the possibility of election-related violence. He told me that could never happen in Djibouti because the people here are tired of fighting. I sure hope he's correct.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Best Country: Slovakia, Japan, or Djibouti?

You've probably noticed that I put up a poll asking which of the three countries on this site would you most like to visit. I think now would be a good time to give you my views about each of these countries' pros and cons hopefully, focusing on the pros.

Slovakia--I had a wonderful time living in this country. Outside of work, I was constantly on the go with friends. If I had any complaint at all, it's that I never had time to relax. I had a core group of five or six really close friends and they felt they needed to show me everything, and I mean everything, that Slovakia had to offer. Looking back though, it was probably the best time of my life.

I don't want to get too specific about this, but at work, there was occasional conflict. I wonder how much of this was due to 'communist hangover' and the developed habits necessary to survive that period in Slovak history.

All in all though, I had a good enough experience in this country to want to retire and/or spend extensive time there in later years.

Japan--The work environment was excellent and I found myself working longer hours than necessary just because I wanted to feel like a part of the team. There was a lot to see outside of work, but I found it difficult to replicate the social network that I had in Slovakia. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of friends but not too many close friends. I attribute this primarily to the disparity in cultures.

Djibouti--Here I am in Djibouti with 10 weeks remaining of a six month assignment. Djibouti has been like no place I've ever lived before. It is definitely 'East Africa.' Frankly, for a Westerner, there's not a lot to do here. I've always been good at creating my own entertainment, but this time, it's been a challenge. Still, there are occasional surprises that make my day.

That's all for now!!