A Travellerspoint blog

April 2011

England: London: Sharon to the Rescue with Secret Cinema

April 30, 2011

semi-overcast 68 °F

I don’t know how it happened but even after unloading what looked like 4 bags worth of stuff we’re still carrying 4 bags? At least Tony didn’t have to stand on them this time to get them closed! Jeff and Samantha took us to the airport in Geneva. We are already missing the entire family; this week was so much fun :) We have a few hours in London then off on our flight to Egypt . . . or so we thought. We arrived at Heathrow and leisurely made our way over to terminal 5 only to find out that we had missed our flight to Cairo! Apparently they had changed the time (to four hours earlier) and didn’t notify us! OOPS! The girl at British Airways was trying to charge us 75 British pounds EACH to change our flight and acted like she was doing US a favor. Well, of course Ruby was so exhausted that she nearly paid it but Tony knocked some senses back into her and we went to go speak to another representative. We luckily found someone helpful who booked us some great seats for the flight tomorrow . . . and didn’t charge us either! So now we’re stranded in London on the weekend of the Royal Wedding. .. what to do?

First, we tried to book a hotel near the airport but they were 350 British pounds a night!?! Yikes, so next we called our friend Sharon who is a complete lifesaver! She welcomed us with open arms and tickets to an event called the Secret Cinema :) We hurriedly hopped on the tube and were at her place in less than an hour. We met her fiancé Chris, her sis Laura and Laura’s boyfriend Mike at the house. They were all dolled up 50s style and ready to go. So what did we do? Ruby unzipped her suitcase and threw on a suitable outfit faster than Sharon could put on her shoes and we were off! :) We wish we could have borrowed from our friends Toula and Mike McCarley’s wardrobe! They waiting for us so we were all running late by now and at one point Tony thought he might have to carry Ruby down some stairs because it has been a while since she’s had to run in heels!

On the tube we got some of the secret details. We were all given special ID cards before the event. It’s a really neat event where there’s an undisclosed film to be played but before the film starts the audience gets hints by immersed in the setting of the film through the surroundings, actors, music, and food. Even clued in, the only thing we knew was that it’s a film set in the 50’s. So we hop off the tube and head to a graffiti lined tunnel filled with hundreds of people all dressed up in 50s outfits, with actors dressed in military uniforms yelling in French! They were directing us into a small room shrouded in fog and covered in barbed wire. Upon entering we found a maze of different rooms, Arabic music playing, women fully dressed in white hijabs, schwarmas being served, and guards asking for our identification card. They even had a gendarmerie like the one in France that we visited to report the car break-in. Ruby immediately thought of North Africa, specifically Morocco—probably because we’re hoping to go there soon but she was wrong. Can anyone guess what obscure film it was?? We’re not sure if anyone could have guessed.

We chatted with Mike and Laura who are huge travel addicts like ourselves and after a few drinks and some delicious schwarmas the movie began. It turned out to be a French film about the Algerian revolution against French Colonization. Despite sleeping through half of it, Ruby could clearly see the parallels between the film and what is going on today in Egypt, Libya, and probably a few other countries but we haven’t been watching the news that much. Poor Tony couldn’t read the subtitles because earlier in the trip he broke his eyeglasses!
Afterwards we were all pretty tired and headed back to Sharon’s adorable flat to catch some ZZZZZZs before our flight to Egypt. Before Ruby went to bed though, she read an email from Nancy that made her laugh out loud, the subject heading was “Are you crazy???” and it had all her hilarious comments about our time in the Afar Desert and the Danakil depression. Ruby liked that one so much she decided to post it on the blog under comments. Thanks so much Nancy for the good laugh! We can’t wait to see you in NYC.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:53 Archived in England Comments (5)

France: Grenoble: Eggs up to the Bastille

April 29th 2011

rain 72 °F

We had a terrific morning started with a ride up the “eggs” to the Bastille. It’s basically a gondola to the top of a mountain but everyone just calls it the eggs? The view is beautiful although Ruby is a little afraid of heights at times and was getting a little queasy sitting in a plastic ball hanging from a wire. . . We hiked around enjoying the vistas and exploring some caves in the hills for a few hours until it started to rain and had to turn back. We stopped to pick up some of our fave veggies for dinner, got home and warmed up the grill. Tony and Jeffy both worked together to make some really delicious BBQ chicken —so tender, juicy and flavorful. We had asparagus, zucchini and rosemary potatoes for the sides. We had another great bottle of French wine to top off the evening. Tony and I finished up some errands—especially laundry and prepping for the Egypt trip. We were extremely happy to drop off our “toddler” of things we’ve collected along this trip! Looking at it right in front of us we can see just how much we’ve really accumulated. We hope we’ll have a good sized NYC apartment for all this stuff! :) Jeff and Tony started to watch Anchorman, another bad movie, but we have a long day tomorrow and had to call it a night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:46 Archived in France Comments (3)

France: Lyon and an African Zoo

April 28, 2011

sunny 80 °F

We’re loading up the kids and going to Lyon which is about 1-2 hours away depending on traffic. There is an amazing park Jeffy has been telling us about so we were excited to visit. We also had to pick up a few boxes that had been shipped from the US. By the way thank you Rob and Elliot at Powell for the boards! On the drive we stopped to enjoy a picnic of cheese and wine for the adults and PB&J for the kids (and some for Tony). We arrived in Lyon and the park was just as beautiful as Jeffy had said. The walkway was lined with flowers and trees with several paths leading to a lake filled with ducks, geese, and even a swan. It was so relaxing; well, until we approached the pond and Jimmy ran up and kicked one of the geese while Sam ran off chasing birds!

After getting the kids back together we walked over to the FREE zoo. It was actually a really nice zoo and even had an African Savannah exhibit with leopards, elephants, and giraffes which made us reminisce on our amazing Africa trip :) The botanical gardens were also very impressive with a huge section of carnivorous plants. Tony and Jeff went to pick up the packages while Kira and Ruby stayed to play in the park. It was really funny to watch the kids playing in the park, chasing birds and wreaking havoc. On the drive back the kids were exhausted and slept the entire way. We picked up some yummy pizzas on the way and had a movie night watching Tangled with the kids. It’s funny to know that as parents, Kira and Jeffy get excited whenever a new animated movie comes out! :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:32 Archived in France Comments (0)

France: Grenoble: A Bistro, Wine and Sunshine

April 27, 2011

semi-overcast 74 °F

Jeff had to go into work today so “we” (Ruby) spent most of the morning updating our blog. We finally had a few days without travel so Tony decided to clean the glass out of the van and wash our bags on the lawn. We didn’t realize how dirty the bags were until we saw that the water coming off of them was brown! That Danakil dirt is persistent! We left ‘em in the yard for drying and meet up with Jeff who had a long lunch and got a ride into the downtown and even gave us a phone to call him after work. The walking streets of Grenoble are beautiful with cobblestone and fountains around every corner. Ruby stopped to shop at a few stores including one of her favorites “Mango”. There were so many nice things but lucky for Tony-- nothing she “couldn’t live without”. We stopped for an amazing lunch at an outdoor bistro and some reading. Thanks Vicki for the reading material! :) They had ravioli pasta that was sooo good consisting of cheese, a red, white and even a little pesto sauce. We sat outside in the sunshine sipping wine and eating our amazing food thinking LIFE IS GOOD! Before we knew it Jeff was off work and on his way to pick us up. We wanted to relax so we had a great dinner of beef bourguignon, asparagus and mashed potatoes. . . YUM! Afterwards Jeffy wanted to watch some cheesy comedies with Tony but passed out about 10 minutes! This is just like watching a movie with Ruby! :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:16 Archived in France Comments (1)

France:La Corno d’Oh My Gosh & Undercooked Pigeon--FOODIE

April 26, 2011

sunny 73 °F

Most of the early part of today was spent calling credit card companies and taking notes on what was in Ruby’s purse. Not really what we had planned on doing when we got to France :( Jeff had to work today so we decided to go to a park with the kids and then shopping with Kira at the French version of Wal-Mart called Carrefour. We had to buy a few toiletries and all the little things that we lost from Ruby’s purse. The place is really cool because they have scanners that you pick up when you walk in so that you can check prices and tally up your total before you even get to the register.... very efficient! Of course Ruby didn’t try out the scanners but she lucked out because a nice older French couple let her go ahead because she only had a few items!

Time was going by so fast today that before we knew it Jeffy got off work and was on his way home. As Tony’s belated birthday present Jeffy spoiled us both rotten with a trip to la Corno d’ Or. . the nicest restaurant in town! We got all dolled up—the boys in their suits and girls in our dresses. The restaurant sits on a hill overlooking the city and a snow capped mountain range. . WOW! Jeffy got to show off his excellent French skills since no one spoke English! We had the amazing “Discovery” menu which consists of a 10 course meal each paired with a wine and champagne to start. The whole meal took over 4 hours and we relished EVERY second of it. In France they pour your wine depending on your size so you don’t get so tipsy that you can’t appreciate the food. Jeffy was laughing most of the night watching Ruby switch her wine glass with Tony’s (when he wasn’t looking) since she wasn’t getting quite as hefty of a pour! :) EVERYTHING was delicious we especially loved the fish, lobster, and scallop dishes. The dessert was heavenly and actually came in the form of 9 individual bite size portions of everything from fruity sorbets to rich chocolate cakes! :) You can see Ruby stuffing her face in the last pic! YUM!!! However, it wouldn’t be a true French restaurant without some exotic cuisine—this came in the form of an undercooked pigeon dish that was probably cooked to French perfection but not designed for our American palates! :) Jeffy and Kira are the best and we are so glad we had a chance to visit them . . . they were so glad to have a babysitter tonight :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:00 Archived in France Comments (2)

France: Grenoble: At the Fort We Let Our Guard Down

April 25, 2011

overcast 68 °F

After a cup of tea and a quick shower we started our mission up to visit a monastery and Fort Du Saint Enayrd. The drive was amazing with windy roads heading up mountain passes. Unfortunately there was a recent rock slide so the monastery was inaccessible. Instead we headed for a little park where the kids got to play and we were spoiled with a beautiful picnic, delicious cheeses and wonderful wines. The highlight for Ruby was watching Jimmy hand-pick daffodils around the field and then handed them to her in a bouquet. As he picked them, he would smell them and walked up to Ruby with the most adorable silly yellow-stained noise. Tony’s highlight was “the ticket office” that Jimmy and Sam had opened for admission to the slide—you had to pay a number of sticks or flowers to get a “ticket” (in the form of rocks) to go on the slide. I think Jimmy gave a family discount because it only cost Tony 6 sticks to go on the slide while it cost Ruby 10 sticks?!

Even though the sign said that Fort Du Saint Enayrd was closed we still wanted to go up for the view. We parked on the side of the road and walked for a few minutes to the lookout point. WOW! We could see all of Grenoble down there (including Jeffy’s house) and the gliders up there were so close you could almost touch them! Every time one would fly over Jimmy would say “hi airplane, bye airplane”. Very cute. We walked around for 20 minutes or so before heading back to the minivan . . . only to find a pile of broken glass near the rear passenger window. With a sinking feeling we realized that the minivan had been broken into . . . in France of all places! Fortunately, the only thing stolen was Ruby’s purse—which wasn’t anything more than a hassle to cancel credit cards etc . . . . since our passports were at home. Ruby does miss her iPhone though . . . as you know she’s very attached to that thing and composes a lot of emails to be sent later. Hopefully the thief will email these out to you guys! LOL. The biggest bummer was the broken window . . . since there are no Honda Odysseys in France so the window glass will have to special ordered from the states which could take weeks.

After a quick cleanup the boys taped a piece of shower curtain to the open hole while Ruby made some calls. We did file a police report with Oliver’s help. This is what we told the cop at the gendarmerie: Oliver is the French friend, the car is registered in Germany to an American military officer living in France, and the stolen purse belongs to the Indian girl living in America who is engaged to the brother of the American military officer whose friend is Oliver. You got all that? LOL! This is a valuable lesson when traveling: never let your guard down. . .we made it 21 countries without having a single thing stolen?! We needed to relax so Kira the sweetheart made an AMAZING homemade eggplant parmigiana with marinara (one of Ruby’s favorites) and we all talked over wine until late. PS: Kira we need the recipe!!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:07 Archived in France Comments (2)

France: Grenoble: Easter Egg Hunt

April 24, 2011

sunny 72 °F

Just like the little Easter bunny Tony was up bright and early. He was a happy camper having homemade pancakes for breakfast! :) Jimmy and Samantha were up running around, so excited to see us and maybe just a little hyped up on Easter candy. Tony could hardly wait so we passed out the presents we collected for them on this crazy trip and then took a walk around old Meylan so Jeff and Kira could show us their beautiful town. It is so picturesque situated between two mountain ranges and exactly like how you would imagine an old French town to look and feel like . . . watch out for the narrow roads and speeding French people though!

Tony, Jeffy and Jimmy went down to the local store and grabbed some fresh bread, cheese and wine (how French). We finally had some quality internet so Ruby decided to stay at the house with the girls and update the blog. Oliver, one of Jeff’s coworkers, came over with his wife Sabrina and two children Louie and Clemon for an Easter egg hunt in the yard. They were really sweet and even brought us an Easter basket to welcome us to France! Unfortunately, Tony had accidentally melted the fancy French chocolate Easter egg that Jeffy bought all of us when he moved it to see the TV! See, nothing good comes from watching TV!

It was so fun to watch the kids play in the yard and “help” them look for the eggs and candy! We also had to keep an eye on Samantha because she can’t eat milk chocolate and every now and again she would sneak over to the slide and take a bite or two! :) Kira is a great cook! It was so nice to get homemade food again. . . she made us tons of food including the classic cheese ball (Tony’s nickname), fancy fois gras, the perfect Easter ham with delicious sides, and topped it all off with a “structurally unsound” carrot cake. Jeffy needs to send us the recipe for her green bean and casserole and the carrot cake . . . but we’ll have to get the icing recipe from Joan for structural purposes! It was a terrific meal complete with TWO bottles of fancy French wine that we enjoyed thoroughly. Sabrina brought her favorite: La Tourelle de Croizet-Bages Pauillac 2003 that we highly recommend! Afterwards we watched the kids make a big mess of the house for the rest of the evening. By the way, there’s no better gift for Jeffy and Kira than doing their most hated chore: the dishes! :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

England:London: We Need a Swiss Watch to Keep Track of Time!

April 23, 2011

sunny 80 °F

Unfortunately Sharon couldn’t cancel all her plans for us so she had to take off to the lakes district this morning. We all ate breakfast together before she left and then Tony and I walked around town admiring all the greenery and flowers. We were in dire need of a few things including a new pair of shoes for Tony! YAY! He was in desperate need after the volcano melted his. London’s super expensive so we decided it was time for a McDonald’s moment—it was actually some of the worst McD’s we’ve had to date :) We picked up our tube tickets and checked out some cool parks and a cemetery before finding a nice place to do some wine tasting. Ruby was also ogling a gourmet cheese shop and couldn’t wait to get to France! Just around the corner from the wines was the Museum of Natural History which was free to enter and ironically they had an exhibit called “sexual nature” about the unusual mating habits of animals. Looks like “animal viagra” is still sticking with us—we probably have a few photos we could contribute to that exhibit. LOL. We saw some amazing fossils, meteorites and diamonds before we realized that we had lost track of time and basically rushed back to Heathrow to catch our flight to Geneva—luckily the guy at Swiss airlines was too busy training a new employee to charge us extra for all our overweight bags!

At the Geneva airport Tony and I both started contemplating which type of fancy watch to buy—we weren’t sure why that idea popped into our head. .. .until we noticed that ALL the marketing material at the airport was covered in fancy Swiss watch brands! Jeffy (Tony’s younger bro) was there to pick us up with a big smile on his face and his ridiculously large van—it’s a minivan in the US but compared to the Euro cars. . it’s a beast! About 2 hours and 20 Euros in tolls later we arrived at his gorgeous house situated between two mountain ranges in the city of Grenoble. The kids were up and had a chance to jump on us before we all headed to bed.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:42 Archived in England Comments (2)

England: London: Kilimanjaro…seen it! A View from Above

April 22, 2011

sunny 83 °F

Do you remember than elusive mountain in Tanzania that we mentioned before? Well, we are currently flying right next to it. . . Kilimanjaro is just out the window to our left. We have the most amazing view of its gorgeous snow topped peak along with its sister Mt. Meru in the background all from our comfy seats on the flight to London . . . much better than a 4 day hike! We’ll probably never climb it but being able to see it from the top is really breathtaking. At the end of this 10 hour flight we have something great to look forward to: catching up with our friend Sharon who we met at the very beginning of our trip at Bella Vista in Ecuador. She’s changed her plans to meet us on this long weekend and even offered to pick us up at Heathrow . . . which is a good thing because our bags are busting at the seams with presents and our backs are aching from all these flights, taxis, bus rides! :)

We arrived at London Heathrow and Sharon was waiting for us like our own personal limo driver :) Somehow we managed to get all of our stuff in her little European car, but it wasn’t easy. A few bags in the boot (American truck), some on the seat, one or two on our laps…we really need to unload these things! On the drive home we talked about our travels and she gives us the big news: Chris just proposed last weekend! She lives in a beautiful old part of town called Putney and after dropping our bags off at her flat we got out exploring. She treated us like royalty the whole time. Speaking of that, the excitement about the royal wedding was almost palpable.

We got to check out Big Ben and the London Eye at sunset before she treated us to dinner and drinks at the beautiful Skylon Restaurant on the river bank. We had an amazing gourmet meal ---one thing we haven’t had in quite a while! We had to laugh at how complex the menu was—half the time none of us knew what we were eating :) It’s ironic that the desert came in the form of a volcano after we just climbed one . . . we loved it! We were all pretty exhausted by the end of the night so Sharon flagged down one of the fancy London black cabs for us--thanks Sharon, you’re the best!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:23 Archived in England Comments (0)

Kenya/Tanzania: Tony the Tout Magnet

April 21, 2011

rain 74 °F

We awoke from our dreams of sleeping outside in the desert to a strange sound…an alarm clock! Not the normal donkey or camel sounds we’ve become accustomed to over the last few days. We struggled to get our stuff together and took a cab into the city to catch the Dar Express Bus. This bus is much nicer than the one we rode up to Kenya a few weeks ago and we would recommend it over that 20 seat battered school bus that only takes the back roads! At the border Tony stuck out like a bright light to every person selling something or offering to help (for a tip of course). Ruby walked away for one minute and when she looked back there was a guy walking with Tony telling him he was with the bus company. If you ever make it to Africa know that the people that work for the bus company don’t really care if you make it back on the bus in time. . . so if someone tells you to follow them, it is their way of saying “you look like a tourist that I could get a few bucks from”! Well we made it out with only spending around $1USD. Ruby really couldn’t say anything because at 5:30am at the bus station she forgot the conversion rate of the Kenyan Shilling and gave our cab driver a $20 US tip! :( Well, the rainy season has officially started in Tanzania so most of the drive has been nice and cool. On one of the frenzied pit stops Ruby met a Kenyan girl and they both balked at the state of the bathrooms at these bus stations! She offered Ruby tissues as Ruby offered her hand sanitizer. . . and just like that a new friend was made.

The bus ride was pretty frantic--the driver kept switching into the other lane to pass cars and we hit tons of traffic on the way to Dar. This was probably due to a combination of the upcoming Easter holiday and the rain! Just like Californians, Kenyans and Tanzanians don’t know what to do when it starts to rain!? We finally made it to Dar but we were so exhausted that we could hardly think. Luckily for us Wairimu, a stage actress from Nairobi and Ruby’s new “bathroom friend” was kind enough to have her driver give us a ride to the hotel. We quickly ate some delicious spicy lemon chicken and passed out for our flight the next day! Sorry no photos for today. . . I think we were just too tired.

Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:11 Archived in Kenya Comments (2)

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: Washing Off the Dust of the Danakil

April 20, 2011

sunny 82 °F

Today we’re up early for our flight back to Addis and then a long journey down to Dar es Salam. This time when we arrived into Addis we knew exactly what to do…walk past the taxi stand and straight over to the minibuses. Mimi was working and Fitsum was out of town so what to do with the day? I know let’s go to Boston Day Spa and treat ourselves to some pampering! Whose idea do you think this was? The Spa was great and after a few treatments we walked out feeling almost normal. Well, almost because I think we’ll be scrubbing sand of our bodies for a long time to come! We negotiated a price and grabbed a cab over to our hotel. We dropped our stuff in the room and immediately grabbed a mini bus over to do some shopping in Mercato. We picked up a wooden rhino we’d seen last week, a few drums made from goat skin and some Ethiopian crosses. Now we are officially maxed out…with every bag stuffed and about to explode!

Mimi arrived at our hotel and after a quick shower we were off to dinner at the Sheraton. When Ruby was in Ethiopia last the two of them would meet Gordon and the flight crew over at the Sheraton for some drinks, pizza, and dancing. It was hard to say goodbye and as Mimi dropped us off at the airport we realized we’d definitely be coming back to see them! The Addis airport is insane and I don’t know if we could think of a more inefficient system than the one they use. There are lines for everything, everyone is impatient and cutting is ok as long as you’re louder than the person behind you! This is definitely not the place to be when you don’t feel well and are mentally and physically exhausted from a crazy weekend! Luckily the flight was pretty smooth and we both got a few hours sleep on our way to Kenya. When we arrived into Nairobi Doc was there to greet us…he’s the best! We drove back to his house telling him all about our crazy adventures and what was next to come. He’s so thoughtful, buying our bus tickets, picking us up at the airport at 1am and even having a cab waiting outside the house at 5:30am! Thank goodness for his help!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:02 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: Surreal Sulfur Salt Flats

April 19, 2011

sunny 130 °F

We’re driving through the sparkling white salt flats of Northern Ethiopia listening to Hindi music “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” being played on the phone of one of our 4 Ethiopian military armed guards. It is blindingly bright outside so we are all wearing sunglasses but at least the road is smooth at last! How surreal? This morning we woke up to an amazing sunrise over our crazy outdoor beds, ate breakfast and at 7am picked up the necessary government military Afar guards. We upgraded to one guard per tourist because we would be less than 30 km from the Eritrean border and in 2007 some British people were kidnapped and held for ransom (BTW they did make it out alive). We headed out on a short one hour drive from Hamed Ela to the Dallol Depression where we walked up over uneven surfaces and sharp jagged salt formations for about 20 minutes. Along the way we saw mineral formations of every color in weird shapes like mushrooms. Then, we descend into the Dallol crater where we see the multi-colored hot sulfur lakes with their bubbling springs. There are so many beautiful colors neon green, yellow, blue, brown, orange, etc. . . . They are actually known as hot brine springs. Of course, this area is also more than 116 meters (328 feet) below sea level and the lowest point on the African continent. It also happens to be one of the lowest points on earth not covered by water! The sulfur is stinky and we’re not sure if that’s what caused a rare nose bleed for Ruby but Ruby has to “sit it out” for a little bit. Later she comes down and joins everybody to watch the bubbling acid and walk over some of these crazy formations. Afterwards we visited some caves and ended up at a crazy lake with dead birds lying on its banks. They have been poisoned by drinking the water that feels “oily” since Tony thought it would be a good idea to stick his finger in the lake. . of course he forgot that he had a cut on that finger. I hope it doesn’t get infected or that he doesn’t turn into the swamp thing!

We think Ruby has some mild heat exhaustion and decides to take it easy from this point on. The army guards had ICY cold water that they shared with Ruby. She learned their secret for keeping it cool. They cover their water canteens in a material like woven hemp or twine and pour a small amount of water on it to get the material wet. Then, they place their canteens on the roof of the truck to cool in the wind with the miracle of evaporation. Amazing, also keeping a wet cloth like Tony’s “camel scarf” over your head will keep you really cool!
Afterwards we continued on to visit the salt mine workers who chip blocks of salt out of the ground and get paid 25 birr (approximately $1.50) per camel to haul blocks of salt up to the highlands. The Afar people make double. It is amazing to believe these guys WALK the camels the entire distance (80 km or more). EVERYONE leaves the Danakil come May 1 to November 1 because the temperatures soar to 146F and above. By this time we were ready to leave as well!

On the drive back to Hamed Ela we heard a dragging sound-- only to find that the strut on Hailu’s truck was now broken. We again hopped into the car with the Katia and Ben and headed back to Hamed Ela without Hailu or the guards. After 2 hours Hailu made it back and had temporarily fixed the strut. Hailu convinced us that everything would be fine if he drove slowly.

After lunch we were ready to drive back to Makele when Hailu got into an argument with Fitsum the other driver and took off with us in the car saying that “they had the better car and would catch up with us later”. Geez, about 20 minutes later we see our “safety car” with the Frenchies take off and leave us in the dust! Tony and I both had a sinking feeling in our stomachs as we watched them race by but luckily we could see them stopped far in the distance waiting for us. When we got close to reaching them . . . they sped off again. The next time we caught up they stopped and waited. Ben and Katia got out of the car and told us that they wanted us to get in ASAP. Apparently, Fitsum and the cook Daniel wanted to leave us behind stating “they would relax and wait for us in the next town. . .60 km away drinking cold cokes” because they were upset with Hailu and didn’t want to wait for us! We can’t believe that they wanted to abandon us with Hailu in a truck with a broken radiator hose AND strut. .. thank god for Ben and Katia who wouldn’t let them do it! The rest of the drive back was going well until Fitsum (the other driver) got into an argument with some local Afar kids when we stopped for cokes. The Afar police wouldn’t let us pass until we explained the situation. Luckily we got out of there and on our way to Makele at long last! We arrived into town at sunset experiencing a range of emotions including relief, exhaustion and anger. The first thing we did was take long hot showers. We met up with our friends Ben and Katia for dinner to celebrate surviving this experience. We noticed that we had some serious temperature control dysfunction going on since we were all shivering and wearing sweaters in 80 degree weather.

Our advice: this is an absolutely AMAZING experience if you’re appropriately prepared: First, DO NOT use Noah Safaris no matter how good their pricing looks. Avoid anyone named Haddas Woldu, Ababa, or Hailu. Book an expensive tour with good air conditioning and physically check out the truck that you will be driving and that it is NEW. You want to be physically ready to hike 20 miles plus in hot weather. The best times to go (weather wise) are between December and January. We recommend good hiking boots, a headlamp, ask for the optional camel up the volcano if you might have trouble, carry high calorie snacks, lots of sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, electrolyte replacement solution, a scarf, an umbrella, and be sure they bring AT LEAST 4 Liters of water per person per day!!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:43 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (3)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: Volcanic Blisters

April 18, 2011

sunny 130 °F

Sleeping on the rim of the volcano was remarkably comfortable but we didn’t know that Ruby needed to set an alarm (she was the only one with a watch). We got up at 5am and loaded the camel. Boy, the camel was complaining about being woken up and all that weight! Then we started our hike down under the light of the moon. About halfway down the volcano we hear a loud grunt from the camel carrying our supplies followed by a loud “thump”—oops looks like our laptop bag DID ACTUALLY fall off a camel’s back while coming down a volcano. Thank goodness our laptop WASN’T in there!

The hike down seemed like a path of never-ending volcanic rock and after a couple of hours we could finally see the village which looked like an oasis in the distance! It was warming up as we continued to walk, Tony’s sneakers were melting in the heat and my Merrils had seen better days. . our blisters were killing at this point. We were happy to have a breakfast of porridge with sugar and boiled eggs in the shade. The cook accidentally gave us raw eggs instead of the boiled ones and it took Tony TWO tries to figure out that we didn’t have the boiled ones LOL!

Afterwards we started on our drive back to Hamed Ela over very rough terrain. How hard is it to travel to one of the most inhospitable place on earth? VERY HARD. We had to separate the guards and Hailu for the drive. Unfortunately we also had to drive back with Hailu because there wasn’t any other choice. We passed by the site of a roadside bomb from a couple of years ago and thought twice about what we were doing in this crazy land. It only proceeded to get worse from there because after a couple of hours of driving we hear our driver say “I have lost the way” in the middle of a sandstorm. There is really nothing much scarier than that (except for our experiences the day before). The wind had destroyed the “road” which had basically been two tire tracks and our driver was taking another “shortcut”. Tony and I immediately started looking at the mountains and our compass in case we needed to walk it!

Luckily we found two young Afar shepherds in the middle of this sandstorm. They hopped in the car in exchange for a few bottles of water. They led us back to a viable road but before long the truck had another breakdown. We had to stop for camel well water and Tony again decided to take a “camel bath”. Once we got the truck running we drove endlessly through the desert until we stopped for lunch under a palm in the middle of nowhere. We were so exhausted from the 20 miles of hiking that we barely noticed the heat or dust. Finally we headed back to town and before long Hailu’s truck broke down again. This time we left Hailu to fix the truck and quickly smushed into the other truck with our stuff. As we drove, the radio tower at Hamed Ela was like an oasis and we were all just praying to make it being in a single truck now.

Our guides promised us “ice cold cokes” as a reward for all this mess but unfortunately there is no such thing as “ice cold” out there! The shop had a refrigerator but unfortunately no place to plug it in, so it was more like a cooler. The cokes were warm. . . but at least they were cooler than room temp which was about 130F! Tony made a makeshift “shower” out of our bed frames and a tarp—it felt heavenly to rinse off all the sweat and dirt! Tony was finally able to get some of the camel smell off of him! Unfortunately, his camel-covered scarf still carried the distinctive smell for the rest of the trip! We quickly ate dinner and drank some hot vodka mixed with hot mango juice. That was a bad idea because Ruby passed out at about 8pm. That night there was no wind and we decided to lay on our beds under the stars which was pretty amazing.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:59 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: Nightmares and Dreamscapes

April 17, 2011

sunny

After a small breakfast outside our huts we loaded stuff in the trucks and started driving out of town. Not even a mile out of town the road ends and all you can see are tire tracks into the desert . . . and we thought the roads were bad yesterday! The farther from town we got the worse the roads got. For a few minutes we got so lost that when we finally found the road our driver, guide and guard started clapping.

It was so hot out that our thermostat maxed out at 120F or 50C and about an hour into our drive our truck overheated! Nothing a little duct tape and all our drinking water couldn’t fix though! Our driver Hailu was always trying to take shortcuts and ended up separating us from our “safety car”—you know the one that is supposed to be available if our truck breaks down in the middle of the desert so we’re not stranded alone in 120+ heat. Needless to say we were scared and cursing Katia and Ben for letting their driver Fitsum take off without us. Thankfully we eventually found the little village where we were going to eat lunch. We were thanking god that the truck did not break down while we were alone and immediately told Katia and Ben not to let their driver leave without us under ANY circumstances. They said that they weren’t able to see out of the back window because of all our supplies and thought their driver Fitsum was paying attention to that sort of thing. Regardless, they would be sure not to leave us in the future.

Right after lunch we took off to head to the Erta Ale volcano. Unfortunately, our driver Hailu drove the car straight into a sand dune! The truck was stuck; it required the help of two trucks, a rope and a shovel to get us out of there. Meanwhile, this is when Tony got so hot that he took his first “camel bath”, a bath of well water for the camels! After a few broken ropes and just about all the people in the village helping we finally got out of the sand dune. Hailu was so angry that he kicked our local Afar guide out of the car and exchanged him with a second Afar policeman. So now it’s Tony, Ruby, Hailu and two Afar guys with machine guns in the car. As soon as we started driving, Hailu was driving “like a jerk” and then proceeded to get into a heated argument with one of the armed Afar guards. We are just watching in terror because they’re arguing in another language! We see fists get raised and start really getting worried. All of a sudden Hailu turns to us and says “do you know what he just said to me? He says he wants to kill me!” Meanwhile, the truck has broken down again and our “safety car” has left us . . . ! We are all alone with these three crazy men . . . yikes, we wanted out of that car so bad. We were willing to brave the desert alone rather than be in a car with arguing men with guns! We watched in terror as they jumped out of the car to fight. . .so Tony jumped in the front seat and was ready to try and start driving if need be, meanwhile I started honking the horn and flashing the headlights in the hopes that this might catch someone’s attention. Sadly, no one came until about 20 minutes later when we saw another truck coming up behind us in the distance. Tony and I jumped out of the car and flagged the truck down and at just about the same moment our “safety truck” came back. At about the same time one of the two armed guards—Hussain was level headed enough and took away the gun from the other arguing guard.

After that we were traumatized and decided we didn’t want to drive with Hailu anymore. We threw all our stuff in the back and smushed into Fitsum’s car like sardines, which was now severely overweight. We decided to test the shocks . . . which failed! With all the weight the back the right suspension fell apart. We left Hailu and the guards behind and headed up to the Erta Ale volcano which means “smoking mountain” in Afar.

This was Ruby’s first camping trip EVER and in true Ruby form she decided to “go big”. We got to base camp and ate a light dinner while watching the sunset. Then, we loaded the camel’s back with supplies —lots of water and anything we’d need up on top. We contemplated whether to leave our laptop (our most precious commodity) at camp or take it up with us but then we thought about the conversation we would need to have with the Dell service center: “Uh yes, so those hoof marks and lava can be explained . . . we decided to take the laptop up to a volcano and it fell 9 feet off a camel’s back and into an active lava lake”. LOL!

In order to avoid the heat of the day we’d complete the 17km (10+mile) hike up to the rim of the Erta Ale volcano at night. Luckily for us we had a huge full moon to light the way. It was not exactly an easy hike: 95-110F heat at night, uphill over sharp, jagged volcanic rock. It wasn’t until about midway through the hike that we realized. .. Oh my god, we’re climbing up to an active volcano in the dark with three men (two armed) and none of which spoke English. Well, it was too late to turn back at that point! Ruby was dragging near the end and unfortunately our driver Fitsum was hypoglycemic from forgetting to eat all day. He was sick all the way up this “stair climber from hell”. Luckily, we had a doctor who was prepared with us! Every time we would ask, our guide would say “just 10 more minutes” in broken English.

The payoff for all of this was BIG. After about three and a half hours of hiking and lots of break for Fitsum we made it to the outer rim of the volcano. We put down our daypacks and climbed down into the outer crater. The landscape was INSANE. It looked like we were on the moon with all the crazy volcanic rock formations. We had to walk across some sort of crazy black material that felt like thin ice that had already been cracked and was just minutes away from collapsing. Every time we would put our weight on it we would feel it give a little more. Needless to say we were treading lightly. At the end of 15 minutes we arrived to the active volcano. WOW!! We have never seen anything like it. We were standing at the edge of an active volcano with huge lava explosions going on 20-30 feet below us! Every now and again we would get hit with a super hot blast of sulfur gas when the wind changed directions or right after a lava explosion. We just stood mesmerized for an hour at least. .. it was like nothing any of us had ever seen before---especially this close! It was just the four of us plus 2 of our guides, no safety ropes, guard rails or otherwise. If any of us wanted we could walk right up to the edge—we would NOT recommend it though. We kept about a 5 foot distance from the edge ourselves since the edge was made only of newly hardened ash. This is a shield volcano with the longest-existing lava lake (present since 1906) and there are only five lava lakes in the world! Afterwards, we got to top off this spectacular evening by sleeping under the stars and huge moon on the rim of an active volcano. It was unforgettable!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:59 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (5)

Ethiopia: Danakil Depression: I Think We Just Hit a Donkey!

April 16, 2011

semi-overcast 110 °F

If you read our blog then you know how we like to “cut it close”. So in true Tony and Ruby style we took the first flight from Addis to Makale arriving at 8:30am. At the Makele airport we were picked up by Ababa from Noah Tours and taken to pick up the other couple we would be traveling with to the Danakil Depression. Everything had been running smooth and we had nothing but good things to say about Noah Tours until they stopped the car in the parking lot and told us it would be another $300 US for the trip. Of course we were upset and after some long phone conversations with Haddas Woldu we negotiated to pay an extra $100 each to get the show on the road. We were a total of four; the other couple are both French judges from Paris, named Katia and Benoist.

After a little confusion looking for flashlights in this small town we meet up with our two drivers, Hailu (driving our car) and Fitsum (driving the “Frenchies” car). Ababa told us that she would be putting us in the “GOOD CAR” because we paid a little more and that it would have A/C. It wasn’t until a few miles later that we discovered there was no A/C and the “GOOD CAR” had a BAD radiator hose. As we sat on the side of the road watching our driver Hailu put our drinking water into the car we started questioning our decision about taking this car into one of the most inhospitable places on the planet . . . but after an hour we were back up and running and told that this is no problem and it would be fixed at the next town.

As we turned our first corner we started our descent down a windy road with multiple switchbacks and immediately came across a massive camel caravan. . there must have been at least 300 camels in a row climbing up this hill to the Northern highlands with salt on their backs! The camels were interspersed with the occasional group of donkeys. .which consequently are too stupid to move out of the way . . . so our driver accidentally hit one! As we continued on the landscape changed so many times that we lost count as we drove, there were volcanic rocks, jagged mountains, green desert plants, and sandy areas. We grabbed a quick bite of injera and shiro and picked up our Afar Policemen (one for each car). It was a little uncomfortable being surrounded by guys with guns arguing around our truck but we picked up our guard and passed through the gate into the Afar zone. We rethought our decision again as we drove by a blown up military tank and didn’t see any more houses for a few hours.

After 6 hours of driving we finally arrived into a small town Hamed Ela just after dark. This little village of about 40 huts most made of sticks bound together by twine. It is also known as the “hottest place on earth” with an average daily temperature of 34.5C. There were no lights but the moon was so bright that you didn’t even need a flashlight. It was sandy and windy and we were so dusty from our drive that our hair looked grey. After a wet-wipe bath the crew came out with buckets of water to dump over our heads . . . this was extremely refreshing in the heat. We slept on remarkably comfortable homemade wicker beds with a thin foam mattress. This is the first time we’ve ever seen the moon so bright outside that we both woke up and watched it “set” on the horizon.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 12:43 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

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