Arizona

Last month I got a last minute temporary training assignment to Florida and decided on a whim to take a few days of leave en enroute. It was worth it but in hindsight I should have brought the family along.

The training trip to Florida went well. Slept in tents with air conditioning. Sometimes the Air Force gets the butt of the jokes in military circles for such luxuries. Air condition in a tent in the bunduz. The Army wishes they were us. I was not complaining though. The Meals-Ready-to-Eat or MRE’s were not too bad but most of my colleagues hate them. It usually consists of a pre -prepared meal that only requires heating to eat. There is a powdered drink, snack and some dessert of sorts. You warm it with a heating pad activated by adding water.

We played in the field and got some time on the equipment that we would use of we were to deploy.

After Florida I flew to Houston for a day to see my ‘family’ there. As you know I call Houston my American home. It’s where it all started. One of my friends was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. So it was good to see him and hang out with him and his family. The warm weather was a welcome break from the coldish spring in Alaska. I also got to restock on some Kenyan food as there are Indian and Pakistani stores that sell ndengu aka green grams and tea. They also stock chapati flour. Another Kenyan delicacy.

My next stop was Phoenix, Arizona.I got a rental car at the airport and spent a night there then headed north towards Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a high altitude area in Arizona popular with elite runners. It’s more like Iten in Kenya. I stopped in Sedona and hiked in the Red Rock State Park. It’s a beautiful park with red rock formations. The nearby Sedona has the same rock formations and had a popular Catholic Chapel of the Cross built on the side of the red rock. It’s an architectural masterpiece.

I spent a night in Flagstaff which was my base for two nights. I had made reservations for the Page Canyon about 2 hours north. It’s one of the most photographed canyons in the world. It was formed by flooding erosion over the years and it’s now about 90 feet into the ground at its deepest point. It has steep ladders going down into the canyon. Once you are inside, you get to see God’s creative hand at its best. When the sunlight hits the canyon the colors are magical. It is on Navajo tribal land who benefit by charging a fee for guides. It was totally worth the hike and takes about an hour and a half to complete.

There is the Horseshoe Bend nearby which is an overlook of the Colorado River. It resembles a horseshoe. It’s viewed from a steep cliff 1000ft (300m) above the river. It’s a 1.5 mile hike to the overlook from the road. They have float raft tours down below where you navigate the river or from the Air in small planes. The hike was well worth it.

From there I headed to the Grand Canyon which is about an hour away from Page which is home to the canyon and overlook. The Grand Canyon is too big to explore in a day so I checked in, hiked for a little bit then then headed back to my base in Flagstaff before dark and came back the following day. There is so much to do there from biking, to hiking to helicopter tours to camping. I was able to explore and it’s a marvel of nature that has taken millions of years to form. The trick is to get there early which I did on the second day. Hike, explore the less popular viewpoints before human crowds become overwhelming and parking space becomes scarce. I loved it and even got to see some weird looking mountain elk.

From there I had a 5 hour drive south back to Phoenix. It’s a beautiful drive from the high mountain areas of Flagstaff to the desert down in Phoenix. Traffic is horrible there, reminding me of my Nairobi days.

I had made an appointment South of Phoenix in the Sonora desert to go and see the plane graveyard diem there. There is an airport in the middle of the desert called Pinal Airpark Marana where commercial planes land and for some making their last flights, for some the owners store them there due to the ideal dry desert climate which mitigates corrosion of the aircraft. It’s owned by the Pinal county and the airport economic development director takes people on tours if you coordinate with him in advance. It was formerly an Army Airfield during WWII where they trained pilots and later on a CIA off site for covert operations.

I drove down to the desert the following day and for an aviation enthusiast like me it was heaven. They all the Delta airline’s retired jumbo jets and so many other types of aircrafts being stripped of parts, others in storage awaiting new owners and some eye down there for maintenance. The is a big facility on site. I loved it seeing all the planes up close on the tour of the facility.

My fight back to Alaska was delayed as I drove back to the airport in Phoenix to drop off the rental car. Luckily I was rebooked through Los Angeles then onto Seattle and finally on the final leg to Anchorage arriving back in the wee hours of the morning. LA was great as I had a longer transit time so I was able to check out more interesting airlines from around the world like Aeroflot from Russia and Air New Zealand which of never seen before.

Travel is addictive as I always say and once the bug bites you, you are hooked forever.

Below are pictures from that trip starting in chronological order from Florida to LA.

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Japan & South Korea

I got to visit South Korea and Japan and I have to say I have a new favorite country and city..Tokyo, Japan is my favorite city to visit for now.

I can confidently say both countries live in the future. They are so far ahead technologically and socially and it was a marvel to see.

Unlike some countries I’ve been to. They didn’t bother with you or even stare as a foreigner. They were immersed into their phones and gadgets on the trains and subways. It felt good to just go about your business without worrying too much even though I kinda stood out.

At the airport at Incheon, Korea you can rent a pocket Wi-Fi instead of getting a local SIM card. It costs about 5 bucks a day and I had booked one online before I got there. I just stopped by their airport stand, showed them the confirmation email. They hooked me up with the mouse-sized device, turned it on, set it up and I had instant Wi-Fi. It was fast and reliable whenever I went. It comes with a USB charger too. I loved it. I just dropped it off on my way out of the country and that was it. They even deliver it to your hotel if you land at crazy hours of the night and they are closed. Living in technological future and customer care.

One thing I noticed around South Korea was every available space is used for greenhouse farming. That was interesting. They farm by hand and also use machinery around and in the green houses. They utilize small parcels of land to grow wheat, fruits and vegetables. Very innovative.

The food was also very interesting. They had make-your-own-barbeque where they gave you raw beef or pork and you barbecued it on gas grills on the tables. Then they served more than 5 types of vegetables to accompany the meats.

Their common alcoholic drink is a very potent spirit served in a small soda bottle called Soju. It’s mainly made from rice or other starches and it’s alcohol content can vary from 16-50% alcohol content. I saw many Koreans having the drink with meals and shared the drink in shot glasses. I tried it and can attest to it’s potency.

The subway system is very advanced with local and intercity lines. The same with their road network with a lot of tunnels in mountainous areas.

They offer hot beverages vending machines. They had hot coffee & chocolate. I loved it.

Did I tell you they serve beer at KFC in Korea. Go in and order just beer, mko chicken. Yes, that was one of my highlights there.

I downloaded an app which I used to communicate with Koreans, you just wrote or spoke in English and it interpreted and translated making ordering for food and asking for directions that much easier.

It’s a 2 hour flight from Seoul to Tokyo. In Japan, it was another futuristic nation. I got to the airport at night. Cabs are ridiculously expensive in Japan. They mainly use trains and subways. Since I had luggage that I needn’t need in Tokyo. I found out you could lock your stuff in lockers at the airport for a fee. You got a receipt with a password for unlocking.

I used google maps for directions and they had attendants at all train stations to help with how to pay and where the platforms were. They had about 8 different train operators. Some shared tracks and for others you had to exit a station, cross a street and go into a different station. It was quite a challenge at first but I got the gang of it after a while.

It was easy to navigate and I had a great time in Tokyo. It is my favorite city thus far. They have train attendants to push people into the train cars for the doors to close during rush hour..it was funny to watchπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

I took an organized trip to Mt. Fuji, 2 hours southwest of Tokyo. It was a beautiful drive through the forests and tunnels through the mountains.

Drove past the Maglev train test site tracks in Yamanashi prefecture. The train has hit speeds of upto 374mph (603kph) during tests. The train doesn’t use tracks but a set of magnets and kinda floats with no friction. It’s launch is planned for 2027. That futuristic Japanese stuff I was telling you about πŸ€”πŸ€”

It was a clear day and we were able to clearly see the top of Mt. Fuji, drove up to the Fifth station viewpoint, had Mt. Fuji shaped cakes and checked out the souvenirs on offer. Then had lunch at Lake Kawaguchi at the bottom of the mountain. Drove to Lake Ashi and took a cruise to the Hakone Komagatoke ropeway. We had a beautiful view of the nearby Odawara city overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Japan is an island and the nearest neighbors are Russia and Korea.

We ended the day long roadtrip with a ride on the Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo. With speeds upto 320kph the 2 hour drive took 40 minutes.

For some Kenyans who ‘shrub’ or have a tribal accent they would blend in so well as Japanese really mix up their ‘l’s and ‘r’s..🀣🀣🀣

There is so much to do in Tokyo, I barely scratched the surface but I was able to check out a few things. A cat themed cafe.. yes, a cafe full of cats where you just chill, have coffee or food as you pet cats.. random..i know. They also have Owl, Rabbits, Dogs, Snakes, Parrot themed restaurants. Interesting stuff.

For some of the fast food restaurants you pay into a machine outside the restaurant, got your receipt and change and only went in to grab your food.. no cashiers.

At one of the busiest intersections in the world at Shibuya there are over 1,000 people crossing at a time during peak hours at this intersection.

Japanese dress up in suits and their laptop bags, very official looking and they have some unwritten rules. When going up escalators they stand on the left side, those walking up or down use the right side. It’s interesting to watch especially during rush hour.

You don’t tip in Japan, if you try they get offended and will chase you down to give back your tip. Very interesting. Some off them also wear mouth masks which come in interesting designs. It was explained they are worn by many due to allergies brought about by certain tree pollen especially during summer. Masks are also worn to prevent spreading diseases due to the close personal space especially on public transport.

I did a bit of shopping at the famous budget friendly Japanese mega store Uni-Qlo. With 5 floors it was quite the shopping experience.

On my way out at the Narita airport, they had one of the biggest shopping areas of regular stuff I had seen. None of that duty free perfume and chocolate you see at most airports. It was more of a big market with local Japanese merchandise and Japanese tech stuff from outdoor gear to cameras. To crown it all they had an upstairs aircraft viewing deck. As a planespotterand aviation enthusiast there was no better place to be taking pictures of landing and departing aircraft. I nearly missed my boarding time snapping away.

I loved loved Japan and will be back to explore soon. It’s only 8 hours away from Alaska.

Komsa-Hamnida , Arigato… thank you in Korean and Japanese.

Life in Alaska

We’ve been here in Alaska for 4 months now and it’s snowing.. surprise surprise. It’s Alaska duh. It’s better than I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong. It’s cold but I’m never outdoors for so long. A few times I’ve been outside for too long and it’s painful on the extremities i.e. fingers and toes. One interesting fact about Anchorage is that it’s almost always warmer than most of the Midwest and Northern states. It’s currently 27F/-3C here while it’s -5F/-20C in Fargo, North Dakota..See πŸ€—πŸ€—..It’s said it’s going to be one of the warmest winters in history. Global warming at work.

Winter can be depressing at times due to the short days and darkness. At the height of winter the sun rises at 10am and it’s dark at 3.30pm. We start gaining 5 minutes of light everyday after Dec 21 until Spring in March or April. Some places up north are in total darkness for upto 60 days. That would be depressing. Suicides go up too during this time. There is a mood disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD that is characterized by depression during this time. We take Vitamin D3 daily to help with effects of not getting the sun. There are also special lights you can buy called happy lights that produce a special UV light that triggers Vitamin D production in the skin. Who knew?

Alaska is different. You learn to live with what you get here. If not, Amazon Prime becomes your good friend and you can get nearly everything shipped up here. Well, almost everything. Some sellers won’t ship to Alaska. So it sucks sometimes. We have the Walmart, Target and a few brands I’d never heard of before I got here like Carr’s and Fred Meyers. Some people prefer to shop for toiletries and basic commodities in bulk from Amazon. Who knew? So random.

We live in Anchorage which is the largest city in the state. It’s bigger than my last city in North Carolina. It has 300,000 people. Not too big but it has everything we need, well nearly everything.

Crime in this city is out of control. It’s bad. It’s out of control. Car theft, burglary, breaking into cars. What drives all the crime up here is drugs. Weed is legal here, drugs are readily available. There are so many homeless people on the streets. It’s crazy. So we avoid downtown areas as much as we can. It’s up there in most dangerous cities in America. In the top 10 or 20. Who knew that?

Alaska is beautiful, half an hour outside of Anchorage and you could be in the wilderness. Bears and moose are a common occurrence here in Anchorage and even on base. Wildlife briefings are a thing and we got one when we got here. We’ve seen moose outside our house. It was surreal, they are cute but can be dangerous if you get too close to their calves.

Alaska is 2 and a half times the size Texas and the road network is very small. Most places in the state are accessed by air. It’s a pilots paradise out here. We’ve driven to different towns and most are rural by any standards. Fishing and hunting is big but very controlled. The native Alaskans live off their land and outs frustrating that you can’t get places that sell fish or game meat. It’s for personal use only.

Guns are readily available, I’m not in a hurry to get one though. People need the guns and rifles to hunt and scare wildlife if need be. Although of late people need them more to protect themselves from the two legged creatures called humans than the four legged wild ones. It’s wild wild west in this town.

Winter tires is a thing here. Starting from October we are allowed to change from regular tires to winter tires which have more grip in the snow and occasional ice. We went with studded tires, they have metal studs on which helps when the roads are icy. Before May comes around we are required by law to revert to regular tires or you are fined by the cops. It’s an extra expense which we didn’t have to think of in North Carolina or Houston.

There is a Kenyan community of runners who are part of the University of Alaska Anchorage Athletics team. We’ve had the pleasure of hosting of hosting them for Thanksgiving and they are a bunch of cool guys. It’s always a good thing when you can can sit down, have a meal, drink and just communicate in Swahili and reminisce far away from home. It’s always good knowing there is community near you far away from home. Kenyans are everywhere, best believe it.

Winter is not something that you just get used to overnight especially for us Africans. It’s painful being outside in -20C without the right cold weather gear. It hasn’t gotten that bad since we’ve been here though. The coldest its been was 0F/-18C.I’ve tried tubing in the snow recently and it’s fun but it doesn’t come naturally to be outdoors in those temperatures. I’ll try ice skating next and see how it goes.

I’d never fished before but the other day I ice fished and caught 2 pieces of fish. It was a great experience. You have this tent on a frozen lake. They drill a hole in the thick ice, in this case it was 11 inches of ice them throw a line into the water beneath and try catch some fish. It was great.

Hunting is also big here. Most of my colleagues hunt. And every so often some get to kill bears. Moose, Caribou hunting is normal. The rules are very strict though. All hunting can only be for personal consumption. So you won’t find game meat for sale here, same with fishing.

There is a large population of native Americans here, same with people from the islands (Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Polynesia), Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese and even Russians. Russia sold Alaska to the US in 1867 for $7.2 million at a crazy rate of 2 cents per acre. Crazy huh? Another interesting thing is that at the western most point in Alaska you can see Russia (on a clear day) two and a half miles across the small Diomede island and you can see ‘tomorrow’s on Big Diomede island which is on the Russian side. The international date line is right there between the US and Russia on the Bering Sea. There are no direct flights from here but if you connect through Nome there are flights from there. So technically we slightly over 2 hours away from Russia. During winter the sea is frozen and you can technically walk over to Russia, although I hear it’s forbidden and highly frowned upon by the two neighbors. Little Diomede is also known as yesterday island and big Diomede is tomorrow island. πŸ€”πŸ€”

We’ll be here for the next 4 years so there is time to explore and see more of beautiful Alaska. It’s a great outdoor state with tonnes of stuff to do.

Below are some pictures since we’ve been here.

Final Push to Alaska

We crossed into the State of Montana while we were still in Yellowstone National Park. That shows you how big the park is. There were wildfires through the State and visibility was highly reduced in some places due to smoke. Montana is beautiful with high mountain passes and very scenic landscape. We loved it there and the 80mph speed limit was a plus too. 

We briefly crossed into Idaho which had a French sounding city called Coeur d’Alene named after a native American tribe. Soon after we crossed into Spokane,  Washington which to my surprise was a flat Savannah-like, dusty grassland. I don’t know why but I’ve always thought of Washington State as a green and rainy kinda place. I was so wrong. 

Seattle was next on our itinerary. Crazy traffic,  cyclists everywhere,  many bodies of water,  bridges, ferries and islands best describe this city.  We were able to get the car on a 30 minute ferry ride to Bainbridge Island. What great hidden gem so close to the big city. The view of Seattle from this island was amazing. Luckily it wasn’t raining while we were there. We also had the car serviced here ready for the final leg of the journey. 

We had to cross into Canada to start our final push to Alaska. The thing is when  Canada customs learn that you are military, they want to search your car for guns. Luckily they had already searched the car the last time we crossed into Canada enroute to Montreal. They quickly let us go this time round. We went into Vancouver and headed for the Capilano suspension bridge.

It was an interesting experience hanging on a suspended bridge with at least other fifty people swinging side to side while carrying a baby.. quite a balancing act I tell you. 

From Vancouver we headed towards Calgary stopping in Smoky Kamloops due to wildfires and the most beautiful part of Canada in my opinion: Banff and Lake Louise. The small town on the base of the mountains and the nearby lake are so scenic, words cannot begin to do justice to this place.

We took a break in Calgary, Alberta for a few days.. it was such a welcome do-nothing-but-eat-and-sleep kinda break. After two days we headed towards Grand Prairie via Edmonton. This was the last city in civilization before we hit the bunduz of Canada. 

We hit the the start of the Alaska highway at Dawson Creek and we were truly in the wild wild west of Canada. Hundreds and hundreds of miles a day before we got to these cities in the middle of nowhere: Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Haines Junction. The accommodation options in these towns was only slightly better than the lodgings we have in rural Kenya. A bed,  shower,  a small TV and…. heater. I guess due to the harsh winters. No breakfast,  air conditioning.. basic being the key word. Fuel was being sold in remote lodges in litres. Between $1.20-$1.40 a litre. It was expensive. Along the way we stopped asst the famous Liard hotsprings in British Columbia too.

Food was limited and we survived on what little lodge cafes and gas station delis had. There were so many recreational vehicles (RVs) on the Alaska highway. So many people, mainly retirees make trip every year. But we saw bears,  bison,  mountain sheep even though they looked like goats. Those sheep can climb rocks.. wow!!

We finally made it to the Alaska-Canada border after 2.5 weeks on the road. They say it’s either winter or the road construction season. We were held up on numerous occasions as we had to wait  for escort vehicles through construction zones. Rural Alaska is very remote with only a gas station,  motel and restaurant in some places. 

We headed to Fairbanks for a well deserved second break. While there we took a trip to the Denali park where we saw some grizzly bears and Caribou. It was surreal to see them feeding in the distance. 

After a few more days of rest we headed into Anchorage,  our home for the next couple of years.  We had covered 8,700 miles or 14,000 kilometres. The trip of our lives. The car had performed amazingly well and the wife and young feels had been such great sports for such a long trip. We’ll do it again at the end of our tour God  willing. 

Roadtrip Pt 2

We crossed the border back to the US and headed Southwest along Lake Erie. We went through Pennsylvania to Ohio then on to Indiana. I’d never been to Michigan so we stopped in Kalamazoo downtown and checked it out. We averaged about 300 miles a day so it wasn’t too crazy on most days.

We stopped in Chicago, took a boat around downtown and took a tour of Willis Tower formerly known as Sears Tower. The views from the 103rd floor are stunning to say the least. The ledge experience was exhilarating. At 1353 feet above the ground and 4.3 feet off the ledge was a nerve of steel. The traffic in Chi town is not too be underestimated. 

We headed northwest and made stops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where we tried squeaky cheese curds, Minneapolis we tried some Somali food and got to see a friend. We continued on to Fargo,  North Dakota just because I’d never been to that state. There wasn’t much to see there but Bismarck had bison farms and Dinosaur museum. It was also the longest leg of the trip at over 500 miles.  Enroute we went through the Standing Rock reservation which was at the center of protests by the Indian Sioux tribe against the Dakota pipeline. It was quiet when we drove through. Our destination was Mount Rushmore where they have a massive sculpture of 4 US presidents. There were too many activities nearby to be accomplished in a day. 

We then headed into Wyoming and into Yellowstone National Park, another huuuge recreation area with tonnes of activities. We saw more bison, bears, Yellowstone, hot springs and crazy traffic.. and crazy hikers amidst the bears.  It’s a 3,500 square mile park (it spans 2 states,  Wyoming and Montana) and a few hours didn’t do it any justice.  We ticked it off our list but we’ll be back soon to explore some more. 

Roadtrip Pt 1

We are on the road headed to Alaska.. driving. Life is too short not too take advantage of such opportunities. The Air Force has given me 13 days to get to my new base. I added 2 weeks so with about 4 weeks, I’m touring around. 

My stuff was shipped a couple of weeks ago,  it should get there after we arrive. They shipped some unaccompanied stuff which we’ll need as soon as we get there like uniforms and baby stuff.

We drove wife’s car to Norfolk,  Virginia and it was shipped. Should get there before we do. 

We did a dry run to the Carolina mountains and unfortunately the Audi did not meet the test. The back was too small to fit wife and baby comfortably on the road for 4 weeks. I was able to get a Saab station wagon and a roof luggage box. And it is a 6 speed manual transmission. Just the way I like them. 

We started our trip from North Carolina heading up north. We stopped in Annapolis, Maryland. It’s downtown area is beautiful and classic, it’s by the bay and it’s home to the Naval academy.

Our next stop was Montreal, Canada. It’s the French speaking part of Canada. We didn’t like it much. People were cold and snobbish, the roads were horrible and it sits by a huge river that you have to cross back and forth with only 2 bridges. Crazy traffic. The one interesting thing we saw was bringing your own bottle of wine to a restaurant and just paying for food.. random culture. 

We then headed to Ottawa the political capital of Canada. It’s beautiful,  lots of people doing outdoor stuff everywhere,  has old cathedrals and buildings and even has mass yoga sessions twice a week outdoors by this European style old building. It was thousands of people in this square when we passed thru.

Next stop was by Toronto, the financial hub.  it’s a big mess traffic wise. Too much traffic and small roads for its size. We didn’t explore much here. It sits on the edge of Lake Ontario which gets it’s waters from the Niagara falls.

We headed to Niagara falls,  it’s all its described to be especially on the Canadian side. It’s scenic,  huge, smoke rising from the falls. It’s a wow moment seeing it the first time. There is a skydeck from where you can have a bird’s eye view. We loved it but there was a storm while we were there and we got soaked a good one. 

The U.S side is a state park where you see the water before it hits the falls. There is a island and some caves behind the falls that you can hike down to but you don’t have the full view of the falls. 

We’ll bring the baby back when he’s much older to appreciate the beauty of this God given wonder.

The trip continues.. 

Orders to…

So i’m changing bases from my current base in North Carolina to…Alaska. WTH? Yes ..A Kenyan in Alaska will be my new slogan.  Yes,  I’ll be moving to Alaska soon. Everybody keeps asking about the cold up there in the Last Frontier as they call it.  I don’t know what to expect but I know it’s gonna be fun. Snow not withstanding. That’s what all my colleagues who’ve been based there tell me.  Everyone I talk to tells me about the cold up there but apparently it’s much warmer than the northern states i.e. North Dakota,  Minnesota e.t.c. The Air Force is sending this Kenyan to the last frontier originally bought from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million our 2 cents per acre back then. 

I don’t know what to expect up there but what’s guaranteed is 24 hr sun during summer and nearly 24 hr darkness during winter. I’ll tell you about how true that is once I get up there. 

I googled Kenyans in Alaska and instead found out there are Somalis in Alaska. Good enough. Somali food is delicious. 

I’m awaiting my orders from the Air Force to get this show on the road.  The trusted Audi unfortunately won’t be making the trip. We dry ran it the other day 5 hrs from base and it didn’t make the cut for wife and baby.. it’s too small.  In its place we are getting a SAAB..Yes,  a Saab. I didn’t know much about it either but it’s a kick ass car. A Swedish car manufacturer bought out by GM who then took it under.  There aren’t many of those babies and I got one out of Massachusetts. 6 speed manual transmission 2.8 V6 Turbo.. who knew?? The Swedes don’t play. 

I haven’t seen it yet but the reviews are amazing. 

Anyway,  that’s what’s happening.  Hopefully I can get done with my Private Pilot License (PPL) before I PCS (Air Force lingo for Permanent Change of Station). If not that’s fine.  My new base has an Aero Club. I can fly on base.  

Wish me luck on this cold winter thing hanging over our new outdoor paradise 😁😁😁