Monday, December 31, 2007


SHORT VERSON: I probably got had by a dodgy looking dude in Luxor's souk.

LONG VERSION: My tolerance for the hassle-happy, obnoxious high pressure Egyptian sales people in Luxor's souk (market) was, for whatever reason, remarkably high this afternoon. I had successfully negotiated a couple of cheap cab fares and was feeling high and mighty in my newfound bargaining skills.

But I didn't go looking for the usual pile of fake papyrus, cheap alabaster, raffish glitzy waterpipes, and other kitschy garbage the Egyptians dump on hapless tourists by the truckload. I entered one shop that looked to be selling (what appeared to me anyway) genuine antiques. I asked the guy where I could find some old or ancient Egyptian coins. He took me a couple blocks down where streed vendors peddled some of the tackiest junk and introduced me to a dodgy looking old fellow with a toothless grin, a knarly, dread-locked beard and a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.

I told him I was looking for old coins. He immediately looked around like I'd just asked for 3 kilos of cocaine or Israeli sub-machine guns by the truckload. He then fished out some grimy silver coins with Arabic written on them. He asked if I wanted to see more. I said yes and he swore me to secrecy before leaving his pile of wooden cats and showed me to his apartment. He was obviously putting on a show, but whatever.

If I thought this man was suspect before, his 'apartment' did nothing to put my mind at ease. His only furniture consisted of an old stained matress I wouldn't let a dog sleep on. Nothing else but dirt, trash, and thousands of cigarette butts in the corners decorated his floor. I supressed my gag reflex long enough for him to fish out three plastic bags full of coins in random order.

The only ones I knew anything about were several old Indian Rupees and three Eisenhower dollars. He looked to have dozens of coins from British Egypt before World War Two. I was certain they weren't worth much though, and he was asking for some pretty ludicrous prices for them. He also had a bunch of what he said were Saudi coins. But most of his collection appeared to be fairly recent American coins, euros, and some of the former European currencies. The ones I could identify seemed to mostly date from the 1960's and 1970's.

He did show me an old silver coin that he said was from Saudi Arabia. I liked it and made the biggest mistake in the book while coin collecting: I bought something without knowing anything about it. Sadly, I still can't read most of the Arabic numerals. But I strongly suspected it was at least 50-60 years old. It is fairly large, and I could tell that it WAS silver. The coin also has a VERY ornate Arabic Calligraphy inscription on one side. I liked it.

I asked him for a price and he said 1600 Egyptian pounds (almost 300 US dollars). I smiled, but silently balked. I threw out 150 Egyptian pounds (about 25-30 dollars). He went on and on in his raspy chainsmoking voice about how poor he was, how I was so privileged to see his secret collections, how I was insulting him and breaking the rules by not compromising and lecturing me on how to bargain. I responded with two hundred Egyptian pounds and silently groaned inside. He started all over again with the same nonsense.

I got up and said "Thank you for showing me everything, but I don't have that much money with me and I have to go." Then he got all upset and threw all sorts of protestations and offered me a "special goodwill discount" as long as I promised to return and do business with him and to refer friends and family to him. The special discount was 1300 pounds. I got up to leave again and suddenly the price goes down to 600 pounds. Now I knew he was full of hot air (or cigarette smoke in his case).

In the end, he sold me the coin for 200 Egyptian pounds, which is way more than I had ever planned to spend. Without knowing anything more than a novice American coin collector, I would say I certainly overpaid. I'm going to take it to Mr. Said in the UAS business office or an old souk somewhere in Kuwait to see if they'll identify it for me and tell me more.

The character was certainly a master at bargaining, but it was immediately obvious he knew next to nothing about coins. He could speak and communicate in a broken English, but he obviously had trouble following some more sophisticated questions about the coin. He couldn't read the European coins, mostly old Francs and Italian Liras, and frequently got them confused (something to which I did not draw his attention). So all I really had to go on was my own estimation of the coin and its value.

But here in the Arab world, I'm totally in the dark about coin values. I know when something is silver or gold, and have got a good feel for "size," but I'm not an expert. And who knows what this coin might fetch in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Egypt. Clearly, I need to do my homework when I decide to drop 30, 40 bucks or more.

Thinking back, I think I shouldn't have bought the coin at all, or AT LEAST read a guide of some sort on Arab coins. With American coins, I've got a pretty rough idea what the more popular coins are worth. If it is American, chances are I have an example of it, or have seen examples of it. I could identify almost ANY coin minted in America and probably tell you a little something about it. I'm weaker and less knowledgeable when it comes to grading coins and their conditions. But this is only because I don't buy the exotic rarities where the tiniest microscopic flaw could mean a difference in price of hundreds of dollars. I've never spent more than 90 dollars on a coin or bought something that was in mint state. I've also got the knowledge to navigate the Japanese coin market, although I'm no expert.

I don't think I was completely HAD by this guy though. It's about the size of the old, silver half dollars and its in pretty good shape. Any of the American Walking Liberty Half Dollars or Franklin Half Dollars would fetch in the range I paid for, so I don't think I overpaid too much (if I did in fact overpay). What bothers me is that I have no idea.

Hatepshut, Karnak & The Valley Of The Kings

I'm leaving Luxor a few days earlier than planned. There is tons of stuff I'd like to see here, but I really don't want to stay. The town is dirty, full of touts and hucksters, and I'm just not enjoying the polluted air's effects on my lungs or my photographs. And so far, I've only seen the Valley of the Kings, Hatepshut's Temple (above), and Luxor Temple.

On the bright side though, I got to see Karnak temple today (below), which is relatively spectacular and amazing. You can see the pictures here.

Nobody Made Me Buy a Ticket

After leaving Dakhla Oasis, I traveled by bus to the Egyptian town of Asiut, about halfway between Cairo and Luxor. My final destination of Luxor, required a trip on the train.

After finally arriving at the train station in Asiut, I walked up to the ticket counter. A guard from the Tourism and Antiquities Police introduced himself. He told me the computer system was down, the train was late, and insisted on accompanying me to the cafeteria. Having me more than my fair share of hucksters and scam artists on this trip, I was sceptical. I got in line only to be told 20 minutes later that the computer system was down and that I would have to buy tickets directly on the train. The guard patiently waited beside me the whole time.

I told him I'd like to get something to eat (not at his suggested cafeteria) and asked him to leave me alone. He said OK and told me to please find him when I come back to the station. I went with another couple travelers who were in the same boat, and the guard was waiting outside the restaurant I think.

I found out later that Asiut was one of the centers of fundamentalism. During the early 1990's a series of bombings targeted Western tourists and most of those groups came out of Asiut and some other areas, so police are VERY cautious with Westerners there, and prefer that they make their stay in certain places short. They escort obvious tourists (guilty as charged) and nudge them along to make their way to Cairo, Luxor, or any resort destination. At least the guard didn't act like he deserved a tip.

When I finally did board the train, I got on first class and asked someone who to pay. He pointed to a huge, chainsmoking mustachioed guy with a tattered thing resembling a uniform, a painfully enormous beer gut, and his fly down. I asked him twice while the train was in motion when I could pay and get a ticket. He mubled in broken English to sit down, not listening to anything I said.

He checked tickets for everyone in my car in no particular order. He'd check a few people in front of me. Then he'd sit down for a while, then he'd check a few behind me. The whole time, he never checked my ticket and I got to ride for free. Five hours of free train travel. This in a country that seems to have perfected the art of extracting money from traveler's pockets.

My enthusiasm and happiness soon waned however, when I tried to use the restroom. The toilets on Egyptian trains officially set the record for filthiest public toilet ever witnessed by Tyler Beal in his entire life. The previous record was held by a gas station somewhere between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas visited in the summer of 1999. The train beat out Chevron by a mile. Oh, the nastiness.

I finally did get to Luxor. and then I had a nice meal that consisted of stuffed pidgeon. Add that to the list of meats I've ever eaten.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Dakhla Oasis: A Place for Hantavirus

The end of my desert excursion is near, I take a step back in time as I stand on the street in Dakhla Oasis. A sleepy, one camel town separated from Libya and Sudan by nothing but endless miles of sand, gravel, and rock as dry as twice burnt toast. Most locals appear to be farmers, growing dates and some sort of hay-like camel and horse feed plant that I've already forgotten the name of.

But the best thing about Dakhla Oasis is the old city. Ancient residents constructed the old city with mud-brick, and much of the old buildings still stand. I remember making a crude imitation of mud brick as a child during Bear Valley Church's summer day camp. Back then I never imagined I'd stand in a place where such buildings actually existed. I started wandering around the old city and noticed that residents have abandoned most of the mud brick, although some are still occupied. Its kind of unfortunate, because all of the new buildings are constructed with a very ugly concrete or some sort of very low grade white brick (even uglier than the concrete).

The mud-brick section of the city is only partly inhabited and most of it has fallen into disrepair. Wandering around in the abandoned parts, I thought back to Anasazi ruins in Arizona and Utah that I've seen before. This place had a similar haunting presence of a glorious past that is no more. Except that folks still lived in some of these places. Garbage and trash was strewn around the sections that looked used.

The abandoned sections, with all their interconnected rooms, tunnels, stairs and passageways all made me think just one thing, "There's probably a lot of rats, mice, and rodents around here. And they probably carry hantavirus, boubonic plague, rabies, and a bunch of other diseases I don't wanna get."

A Whole Other Kind of Sand

Sand, Sand, Sand. More Sand. There's certainly no shortage here in the Sahara.
Unlike most people, I got past loathing, hating, and vainly fighting sand after I spent enough time at Camp Surf on Imperial Beach in California. If you are surrounded by it, you simply do your best to avoid it, and don't fight it when you can't.

At the beach, seawater frequently submerges beach sand with the tides. Seawater is also full of salts, minerals, microscopic organisms, and generally makes the sand moist and sticky. It also makes sand irritate your skin, especially if you wear globs of sunscreen.

But desert sand is different and much easier to deal with. After being blown in by winds, the desert sand doesn't stick to you. It is finer, softer, lighter, and while dusty, somehow ... cleaner (if that makes any sense at all).

But I'll spare you my endless pedantic psychobabble about, well... sand, and just show you some pictures.

White Christmas in the Sahara

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas....

Well, it WAS white, but this particular Christmas wasn't anything like the ones I used to know. Mainly because I was truckin through the Sahara in a ancient beater Landcruiser with a German/Syrian dude, a chainsmoking Egyptian guide, and a Korean couple.

We left out of Bahariyya Oasis, which lies 5-6 hours southwest of Cairo. After another hour or so, we pulled off road into the black and white deserts. It dawned on me, as we were about to camp, that we were in the White desert for Christmas Eve.

I only say it was white because I was in Egypt's White desert looking at these otherworldly rock formations from an ancient prehistoric seabed. And while the tour turned out to be less than I had hoped, the surreal lanscape managed to amaze a jaded guy like me, who used to live in the Grand Canyon and used to visit Sedona, Utah, or the Colorado Rockies every other weekend.

Just take a look.

Sick of the Touts

Would somebody PLEASE do SOMETHING about all the obnoxious touts in this country?

Everywhere I go, I get guards, random dudes, and all sorts of crazy characters bothering me for money after showing me around somewhere I was perfectly happy going or finding on my own. EVERYONE wants tips, "admission," baksheesh, or some commission. It gets real old. If they really cared about their tourist economy, you'd think they would do something about these types.

Every hotel, hostel, or inn I stay at, someone tries to sell me a "tour" to wherever.

Perhaps its my own falt for having stupid rich westerner, or "moneybags" written all over my forehead, or for being nice, approachable, and polite (been living in Japan too long), but I've never been so accosted in my life. Seriously, you can't be civil without giving them the mistaken impression that they deserve a tip or something.

Nitrox Rocks in Sharm El Sheikh

"Tastes like a septic tank, smells like your old man's farts and gives you a horrid case of diarrea. Use it too much and you'll grow hair on your tongue." Fortunately these were NOT the first words out of the mouth of my instructor, as I studied to get my nitrox permit for scuba diving. He did however, warn about the possibility of oxygen toxicity, as breathing too much of the stuff isn't good for your brain or lungs.

I suppose I should start with a better explanation for all non-divers reading this. When you dive, your body absorbs nitrogen in your bloodstream. If you absorb too much, either by diving too deep or diving too long, the nitrogen builds up, and causes all sorts of serious health problems (which explains Michael Jackson and TomKat). So divers carefully measure, monitor, and limit the amount they absorb. Unfortunately, this limits the number of dives you can do and your options when diving.

SO, how do divers get around this? Since nitrogen is the problem, why not just breathe a mixture of gas with less of the stuff in it? Enter enriched air nitrox (to thunderous applause). Normal air consists of 21 percent oxygen and 79 percent nitrogen (except when my dad uses small lavatories). But Nitrox contains 32% or 36% oxygen. So you breathe more oxygen and less nitrogen at depth and your body absorbs less nitrogen, so you might be able to do that fourth dive without having to worry about pressure sickness.

The downside? Increased risk of oxygen toxicity. You can have too much of a good thing. Equipment also oxidizes faster and there's an increased risk of fire/explosions (just like my old man's farts).

But all in all, if you are doing lots of fairly routine dives over multiple days, nitrox might be the way to go, despite all the hassles associated with it.

As for Sharm El Sheikh and the Red Sea, the diving is fantastic, but it doesn't quite live up to the legend that divers had put in my mind. The famous wreck in the area, the Thistlegorm, was allegedly closed, and a little piece of my heart died inside. The reefs were in decent shape and the visibility very good. 20-25 meters at best. But the Red Sea is famous for 30-35 meter visibility, and this just didn't happen. The coral reefs were quite pretty, but overused. Every dive site we went to had 3-7 other boats, glass bottomed boats, and snorkelers. You couldn't dive anywhere without the sound of motors or engines somewhere in the distance.

Nevertheless, with as much traffic as I saw, the Egyptians seem to be doing a decent job preserving the reefs. One thing didn't surprise me though. I was underwater, and another diver pointed out a huge eel that was probably 5 feet long and weighed 40 kg or more. Impressive. He pointed to a nearby reef shark after that. Then he scribbled, "TIPS 3$", on his clipboard.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Getting Hassled at the Pyramids

Is it really so outrageous that a guy should want to visit one of the most famous sites in all of antiquity and not want to spend all his money on fake papyrus, camel rides, pictures, special tours? Its one thing if people want to sell all this stuff, but can't a guy just decline and say no and not be bothered? One almost can't be civil with every person throwing scams at you or selling their stupid tacky garbage. Several times I had to yell at guys trying to get me onto a camel before they finally got the message that I didn't want to ride it.

I did however, get to see the Pyramids! They are quite large and impressive, but I don't have much to say beyond this, When I was through being impressed (and sick of the endless touting)
I returned to Cairo to look around at the National Museum.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dispatches from Cairo

Hello everyone, this time from Central Cairo. Yes, I got on a plane early this morning and flew to Cairo. Now I'm being a total tourist again, this time in Egypt. I'm spending a couple nights here to see the pyramids, some Coptic Churches, some Mosques, Museums and to try not getting ripped off too badly by unscrupulous cab drivers and smelly old fat guys selling fake papyrus.

My readers are probably getting sick of hearing about the next place Tyler is going to visit. So, my amusing story to keep everyone reading: I farted on the airplane! I was in the center seat, center aisle, and I let a big moldy one rip. People gagged. Babies cried. Stereotypes about ugly (and smelly) Americans were reinforced. (Just kidding).

Thursday I'm going to Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai peninsula for some scuba diving and sunshine.

After that, I'm headed off to the Western Desert to look at sand. I'm hoping to end up in Luxor and perhaps see the Nubian desert. We'll see.

I wish I had something funny or amusing to say about Cairo, but the place is very much the way I envisioned it, perhaps even nicer. The city has a horrible reputation for filth and pollution, but it isn't as bad as I had heard it was. Certainly not as bad as Naples, or Cambodia. Only complaint I have so far centers around the primitive internet cafe where the computers don't have USB ports to hook my camera up to. So I guess you'll just have to wait a day or two for pictures.

Kuwait's Grand Mosque

No, I haven't started a new career as an orator, rather I went to see Kuwait's Grand Mosque.

The large, well funded Grand Mosque of Kuwait is actually a very recent addition to Kuwait City, having been put up in 1987. Its exterior, while ornate, keeps a low profile in Kuwait's city center.

The School organized a tour for teachers who wished to see it, so I went with Jeff, John Fager, Gordon Gabriel, the 6th grade science teacher, Alison Lovell, another rookie at the elementary school, and Geoff Williams, the 8th grade English teacher. May, the school librarian, came along to make sure nobody did anything to embarass the school.

The tour was informative and helpful and surprisingly open. The guide was helpful and polite in answering everyone's questions. They even let me hike up into the pulpit to take pictures posing as a charismatic Imam.

While the exterior of the mosque wasn't all that exciting, the interior was absolutely gorgeous. The main dome showed several striking styles of ornate Arab calligraphy and the main altar was decorated with Quranic verses written in no fewer than 7 different styles of calligraphy. I give full marks for the artisans responsible for the mindblowingly excruciating detail work that must have gone into the decoration and construction of the facility. Excellent detail work involving stucco around the Mosque also impressed me. Sunlight leaking in through the arched windows bounced off the soft blues red tones of the walls to give the whole of the massive interior a warm glow.

Unfortunately, I forgot my own camera, so I had to borrow Jeff Wallick's pictures.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Everest Mountaineering Slideshow

Until last Friday, I hadn't seen a famous climber's slide show presentation in several years. I remember my Dad and I watching Alex Lowe's slideshow together. I also remember going to a couple other slide shows at a rock gym in Flagstaff. This slideshow was to be done by Zed Al-Refai, the first Kuwaiti National and evidently the first Arab to climb to the top of Mount Everest on May 22, 2003. Having never heard of him (I haven't been keeping up with events in the climbing community) I grew quite curious to hear his story.

The AWARE center, an organization promoting Western-Arab relations, hosted the event. Slick, professionally done posters with Zed posing on the tops of Aconcagua, Denali, and Vinson Massif, greeted us at the entrance. Posters of Zed atop each of the Seven Summits of all the continents shamelessly promoting Gillette Mach 3 Razors bespoke of a well funded, professional mountaineer. My expectations grew dramatically.

After being shuffled down to the Center's large Diwaniah room, Zed began with some video clips of him doing some easy rock climbing at some unspecified location. He told the story of how he was introduced to climbing while living in New Jersey and doing some mountaineering around New England. This led him to attempt and successfully climb Denali in Alaska.

Following this, Zed made three attempts to climb Mount Everest. During his second attempt, while descending via the North Col / North Eastern ridge from the Tibetan side, Zed was carried down the mountain with High Altitude Cerebral Edema. After turning back, he apparently made it to one of the lower camps on his own power before being carried down the mountain unconscious in an oxygen chamber. Unfortunately, the details in the story were not fully explained.

Zed was successful on his third attempt and became the first Arab to summit Mt. Everest. He currently resides in Switzerland.

The slideshow was OK. Zed certainly had some great pictures. But his presentation catered more to the amateur audience in the room and less to the mountaineers (was I the only person in the room that had done any climbing?). One of the best things about climbing slide shows like this is for other climbers to ask the famous guy details about the routes, epic story, and challenges faced on an adventure that everyone has already read and heard about. Instead of regular climbers being able to "talk shop" with a pro, Zed spent a good deal of time explaining simple things to amateurs. He talked endlessly about "Why I climb" to everybody, whereas every other slide show I've seen was filled with climbers who understand the motivations all too well.

Needless to say, numerous details about the climb I would have liked to hear didn't get explained. What were the circumstances that led to his Edema? At what point in the climb did he turn back? What were some events that occurred during his third attempt? While I enjoyed the show, it just turned into a whole, "I came, I saw, I climbed," kind of story with few interesting details. There also wasn't much time for him to answer questions or talk about other mountains (the guy went up Denali, Gasherbrum, and some other interesting peaks).

John Fager and I eventually ate the AWARE center's free meal (they are very generous with good food) and met a guy looking to do an around-the-world motorcycle trip.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Random Events

My life is pretty simple and uneventful right now, which explains the lack of regular updates. Things will pick up again when I finally reach Egypt. Here are some random events and notes.

1. Went to the first Thanksgiving dinner I've ever been to in three years. It was a small affair in a friend's apartment. It was the only Thanksgiving dinner I've ever eaten without family and it is the only Thanksgiving dinner I've ever been to where Americans were outnumbered at their own holiday feast.

2. I've been doing some serious procrastinating on my upcoming trip to Egypt in a few weeks. This probably isn't a good thing, as the winter tends to be the high season for tourists in Egypt. I'm only really concerned about finding an outfitter to take me to the desert though. We'll see what happens I guess.

3. Been going to my new gym. I'm finding my new job is a lot more draining than my old job and finding the motivation to exersize afterwards is getting harder. Hopefully things will again change after the holiday break.

4. My faith in the political and economic future of my own country, the United States of America, took an ump-teenth turn for the worse this week with talk of subprime mortgage bailout. We know rich corporate fat cats will never have to face the music for their wildly irresponsible investments and loans, but I have a hunch every struggling homeowner who bit off a little more than they could chew (oftentimes just as guilty, but without access to the federal government's influence and pocketbooks) Why not solve drug addiction problems by giving out free heroin to addicts? Its times like these that I'm glad I don't get paid in USD, nor pay taxes to contribute to every pile of excrement the US throws at fans on a nearly daily basis.

5. I went to another Rugby dinner/gala/ event shindig with some teachers again. I've been to two or three of these now (for Rugby groups and the Kuwait Irish Association), and these functions are becoming pretty predictable. All the foreigners get dressed to the nines, go to some hotel convention room, eat an overpriced dinner of passable, but predictably typical cuisine, have a raffle by some annoying MC, and then dance the night away to the same predictable songs they danced to at the last event. Seriously, how many times can you hear that annoying, "Tell Me More" song from Grease in a year and be inspired to dance to it?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tyler. Egypt. December. It's on.

Some of you may or may not know that I'm going to Egypt this year for Christmas and the Winter Holidays. While I will miss all my family and friends, I'm looking forward to this very well deserved (and well needed) vacation. Things on the Agenda include:

1. Unwinding from a whole semester with seventh graders.

2. Scuba Diving in the Red Sea, ostensibly some of the best scuba diving in the world.

3. Taking an 8 day desert safari tour. (Picture Tyler as Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient. Staring off at a sunset over sand dunes with a brooding angst splattered across his pasty sunburned face).

4. Being a total tourist at the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings.

New Dishdasha & a New Gym

My friend Jeff and I were out one Friday night at the Old Souk (market) and happened to wander by a tailor selling dishdashas. For those of you who don't know, a dishdasha is the traditional garb worn by men here in Kuwait and Arabs in most of the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.

Usually they are white, but in wintertime, many different colors are worn. I'll have a picture of me in mine soon. I don't look exactly right in mine, but Jeff Wallick on the other hand, could pass for a local if he keeps his mouth shut.

Hopefully nobody will use this against me if I ever run for senate!

I also joined a new Gym. The commute to my old gym, Al-Islah fitness center, required a 15 minute walk down crowded, dirty, smelly streets, ultimately passing over a 12 lane controlled access freeway. This was starting to irritate me.

Another teacher at my school showed me his gym. The new gym lies only a 3 minute walk away, hidden away in a hole in the ground under a 12-floor apartment complex. The new gym is closer, cheaper, cleaner, nicer, and has a whirlpool. The only problem? They pipe in some satellite music video channel and I spend more time watching top 40 and less time pumping iron. I'll get used to it I suppose.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Journey to Kuwait's Failaka Island

The following happened four or five weeks ago, but I've only begun writing about it now. I'll definitely be returning to Failaka Island. Pictured is Texas Jeff, another social studies teacher in the UAS high school.

Failaka Island sits in the "Arabian" Gulf about an hour's ferry ride from Kuwiat City. Twenty years ago the island was a bustling resort town brimming with beachside vacation condos ringing its sandy shores from all angles. But during the invasion in 1990, the Iraqis moved in and occupied Kuwait, including Failaka Island. The Iraqi Army waged an especially brutal campaign to take and occupy the island.

When the Americans came in to liberate the island, they had to shoot it up pretty good as well. For some odd reason though, the Kuwaiti government hasn't allowed the island to be repopulated. Ostensibly, there is a danger from landmines off of major roads, but other than that, Kuwait's decision to keep the island closed is somewhat baffling to me. Perhaps concern over its strategic position in front of the bay?

Whatever their reasons may be, I much prefer the deserted island with remnants of another era. Instead of another bland, uninspiring tourist trap hoovering money out of your pocket, the island is now the biggest ghost town I've ever seen. What a great playground! There are a couple ferries to the island and one hotel open. One doesn't have to venture far to wander through a post apocalyptic landscape of empty concrete buildings. My friend Jeff and I rented a quad ATV and drove all over the place wandering through empty buildings filled with dust and construction debris.

Above are pictures of us climbing to the top of a mosque's minaret! The building below was ostensibly the police headquarters. You can see the obvious damage from the firefight. Considering it was invaded twice, most of the other buildings were shockingly untouched. Rows and rows of resort bungalows lined the beach and there wasn't a soul in any of them.

Some may be interested to know the person in the picture is Universal American School's Jeff Wallick, (see his blog here) who teaches world history in the High School. More pictures coming soon!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Grandfather's New Book

Well, everyone now knows what I want for Christmas!

After more than 15 years, endless persistence, re-writes, consultants and lots of late hours looking at his computer screen, my Grandad Richard Beal finally got his book published. You can actually buy it right now on! See this link to buy the book!

I've read chunks of some of the earlier manuscripts long ago, so I'm eager to finally read the finished product. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post back in March, he finally found a publisher to print his book and sell them.

Regardless of the subject matter, I'm sure my grandfather is thrilled. He has been writing this book and searching for a publisher since I was about ten. He's also been working on other books, including a commentary on the book of Acts and Christian themed fiction.

For those of you who don't know him, my grandfather was an entomology and biology professor at Northern Arizona University (GO LUMBERJACKS!) and also a minister before retiring to Prescott Arizona. He currently teaches a Bible-study class for the senior folks at his church in Prescott.

Everyone knows him as a warm-hearted, cheerful old guy who loves insects. CONGRATULATIONS!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kuwait Rugby Fundraiser Dinner

Went to the Hilton Convention center a few weeks ago with some other teachers to see the Kuwait Nomads Rugby Club Fundraising Dinner/Event/Shindig. It had very little to do with Rugby, and seemed to be just an excuse to get all dressed up and go to a fancy dinner full of mostly Commonwealth teachers at English schools in the area.

The Nomads are a semi-pro Rugby team from Kuwait that holds matches with other teams from this region.

While the dinner was slightly expensive, a good time was had by all who attended. I also got to get out and meet some other teachers and people in the area. The invitations were all organized by a new teacher at our school from New Zealand named Scott Mogey.

Another Pile of Youtube stuff from Japan

How do the Japanese train children to use a toilet you ask? They have these helpful videos!! You can watch this unbelievably hilarious potty training video! I found this on the Pittmeister's Parade Around Japan.

A Mika Nakashima song from her movie awhile ago. 一色 Isshoku? I think that's how you read it. I never learned to read Japanese very well. Here's another one. These are both from awhile ago, but I remember hearing them getting played everyday.

Some of you may recognize High and Mighty Color's song from Bleach (a Japanese Anime show).

More coming again soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Kuwait's Failaka Island

The following happened four or five weeks ago, but I've only begun writing about it now. I'll definitely be returning to Failaka Island. Pictured is Texas Jeff, another social studies teacher in the UAS high school.

Failaka Island sits in the "Arabian" Gulf about an hour's ferry ride from Kuwiat City. Twenty years ago the island was a bustling resort town brimming with beachside vacation condos ringing its sandy shores from all angles. But during the invasion in 1990, the Iraqis moved in and occupied Kuwait, including Failaka Island. The Iraqi Army waged an especially brutal campaign to take and occupy the island.

When the Americans came in to liberate the island, they had to shoot it up pretty good as well. For some odd reason though, the Kuwaiti government hasn't allowed the island to be repopulated. Ostensibly, there is a danger from landmines off of major roads, but other than that, Kuwait's decision to keep the island closed is somewhat baffling to me. Perhaps concern over its strategic position in front of the bay?

Whatever their reasons may be, I much prefer the deserted island with remnants of another era. Instead of another bland, uninspiring tourist trap hoovering money out of your pocket, the island is now the biggest ghost town I've ever seen. What a great playground! There are a couple ferries to the island and one hotel open. One doesn't have to venture far to wander through a post apocalyptic landscape of empty concrete buildings. My friend Jeff and I rented a quad ATV and drove all over the place wandering through empty buildings filled with dust and construction debris.

Above are pictures of us climbing to the top of a mosque's minaret! The building below was ostensibly the police headquarters. You can see the obvious damage from the firefight. Considering it was invaded twice, most of the other buildings were shockingly untouched. Rows and rows of resort bungalows lined the beach and there wasn't a soul in any of them.

Some may be interested to know the person in the picture is Universal American School's Jeff Wallick, (see his blog here) who teaches world history in the High School. More pictures coming soon!

Happenings Around Here

Hello everyone. If you haven't forgotten, this blog and Tyler Beal still exist! I apologize to all my faithful readers for the lack of updates, but there have been a number of problems here, not the least of which is that the internet I was promised in my apartment is far less reliable and speedy than I would have hoped.

But that can't take all the blame for my lack of communication, as I've been struggling to adjust to things here and haven't found the energy lately to write much. This new job is really consuming a lot more of my energy than I had anticipated.

Some things here have been difficult, but some things have been pretty good as well. All the teachers I work with have been pretty decent folks. I've also gotten to know some kids that I like in some of my classes.

But I'm not really doing much besides working and going to the gym. I work, hope I have enough time and energy left to get my butt to Al-Islah fitness center, and then go to sleep. I haven't been working out as much as I used to though. On the weekends I usually go out to eat or to a party with the other teachers, but I'm not doing much beyond that.

Some recent events in my life include:

1. Paintball with several of my students one night. Running around in a field at night with a facemask and a gun sounds like fun right? Not when you've got seventh graders who would like nothing more than to shoot you with painful little balls of fluorescent goo! Seriously though, I had a good time with several of my students at a paintball place. Lots of fun. Now if these welts would just go away.

2. My school is insane. Most of my students are Kuwaiti, but I've got kids from Lebanon, Syria, India, Korea, Canada, the USA, Pakistan, Egypt etc, etc. After years in orderly Japan where Middle School runs like clockwork for the most part, I'm now riding the waves of chaos, anarchy, and just plain nuttiness that comes with the American variety.

3. My school recently had their annual "Ramadan Around the World" fund-raiser. Actually it was over a month ago, but I never got around to blogging it! Each grade was responsible for putting on a big production of food, crafts, and well a big shindig from different Muslim countries. I spent the entire time dreading it, but I actually had a good time. The seventh grade did a big thing for Morocco. Some of my students' parents made couscous and some other dishes. Pretty tasty as I recall.

4. I'm busy planning a vacation to Egypt for the Christmas/Winter holidays. I really want to go diving, but I'm afraid it will be far too cold. Perhaps another time. I'm going to see the desert at least. We'll see.

Last but not least, here's a couple pictures from the top of my Apartment Building. The big blue building is my school, Universal American School.

I'm going to update more often now, I PROMISE!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Eid marks the end of Ramadan. I can now officially eat and drink in public. This is one of the most significant holidays in Kuwait and most of the Muslim world. Our school is taking a four day weekend and most of my students are on vacation somewhere. I now understand why, as pretty much everything in Kuwait is closed. (Picture Christmas Morning during siesta in Mexico City).

The gym said they would open tonight, so I'm headed over there after dark. In any event, here's a picture of my apartment

Friday, October 12, 2007


Girgian (GHUR-gi-YAHN) is a uniquely Kuwaiti holiday celebrated amidst the merriment and family time that characterizes the month of Ramadan. At night, Kuwaiti children run around their neihborhoods and collect candy, much as American children do during Halloween. The UAS elementary school goes all out for a day, exchanging and feasting on candy and sweets.

As my students are all seventh graders, most are too old for these traditions (much as children in my own country outgrow trick-or-treating) but some of my students still managed to get out and collect candy.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Nice One Mahoney!

I was surfing the net today and ran across this article. Everyone remember Cardinal Mahoney, the guy who protected all those wicked priests in Southern California from prosecution?

Well, the day of reckoning has finally arrived, with a several hundred million dollar settlement that the Archdiocese must pay out. But how have they decided to pay for it? A church bake sale? A cut out of Mahoney's no doubt extravagant compensation? Should we sell off some of the Archdiocese's more valuable properties, including oil fields? No! Let's evict elderly nuns who spent the last 40 years serving migrant workers in Santa Barbara! Brilliant!

Read all about it here.

In Way Over My Head

Sorry its been so long, everyone. As you can probably guess, I've been super busy. On top of that the internet connection at my apartment hasn't been reliable at all so you can probably guess why I'm so behind on updates. My internet connection is very slow as well, so it's difficult to upload pictures onto blogger. I think I'm going to try one of those Picasa accounts pretty soon and see how that goes. When the upload times take way too long I may just break down and go to a wireless internet cafe sometime.

I'm struggling to keep up with all my work. I'm still not accustomed to the hectic pace of things and workload I'm now facing, but I'm trying to adjust. Hopefully I'll get some of that done today.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Out of Jurisdiction

Here's an amusing bit of news one could only find in the litigious society of the United States. Help me out people, because I'm not sure what to make of this one.

A state senator in Nebraska files a lawsuit against God, and gets a miraculous response when a legal brief is filed under mysterious circumstances. The senator seeks an injunction against hurricanes, tornadoes and deadly natural disasters among other charges.

According to the brief filed by God, the court "lacks jurisdiction." God also mentions that there "was no proper and sufficient service of summons." You can read the whole article here.

Here's the article I originally found on Yahoo news.

I googled the lawsuit and found this article on the Christian Post.

Further reading confirms that Omaha senator Ernie Chambers is an amusing and colorful character. This might be worth following, if only for a few laughs.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Feeling Trapped

One thing I didn't count on was the Ramadan schedule at the gym I joined. I have time on the weekends and after school to do stuff, but everything is closed. Another big problem: I don't have the money right now to do anything else. I'd like to go scuba diving, take sailing lessons, or even just go to the movies. But I need to save my money so it lasts until payday.

So I'm feeling a bit trapped in my apartment and the school right now, without the means to get out and do stuff. I'm trying to be productive, doing things I should be doing for school, agonizing over what to do for Christmas break, and some other things, but I'm kind of disheartened right now about the whole thing. I'd like to have the freedom to do a lot of things that I'm accustomed to be able to do, and I just can't right now.

Month of Ramadan

Some of my readers might be aware that this is the Holy Month of Ramadan in the Muslim world. All healthy and able Muslims are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset. As sunrise is about 4:30 in the morning, and the sun is setting about 6 PM in the evening, this is not an easy task. While I'm not expected to fast, it is widely regarded as extremely rude for me to eat or drink anything in public.

Devout Muslims are currently waking up at 4 AM and eating until sunrise. They go all day without food until sundown and then eat until about midnight or later. Most of my students are up all night and are slowly becoming less and less productive. Because the students are understandably more tired and hungry during the day, my school has a special reduced schedule for Ramadan. The school now starts at 9 AM instead of 7:30 AM.

Consequently, my school has set up a special area where students and teachers who don't fast can go during lunch and eat privately. The gym I joined closes for the big meal everyone eats at sunset and doesn't re-open until 8 PM.

My school is also hosting a fundraiser called, "Ramadan Around the World." Each grade is assigned a different Muslim country and expected to put on a big production next Thursday for the school showing how these different countries celebrate Ramadan in different ways. After being assigned Morocco, the seventh graders are getting ready to organize and decorate a big tent with a Moroccan theme. Naturally, some of the responsibility for this falls on the Social Studies teachers, and I've assigned students to make posters about Moroccan culture and society. I'm still trying not to laugh too hard about the irony of me teaching Arab kids about Ramadan.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sailing out of Fahaheel

Went sailing this weekend in the Arabian Gulf. And yes, you are all mistaken. It is called the "Arabian Gulf." A local expat sailing club is offering lessons to novices. So they offered a free day of sailing to anyone who wanted to join. Several teachers from UAS came along and we piled into 25 foot sailboats. We were joined by our skipper, who rakes in the dough from a military contractor, and our first officer, a oil services consulting engineer. But most of us were just teachers from my school. There was a British woman working in another school who came along.

The picture shows me imitating a pirate for everyone! Seriously though, it was a great day of sun, not much surf, and floating around in a boat. Who can complain?

As for the sailing, there wasn't much wind until the sun went down, and we had motored most of the way in. I went for a brief swim as well. I'd write more right now, but I'm thoroughly exhausted from work.

I'm considering taking lessons, but I can't do anything that costs money until payday!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Life at UAS

It looks like I'm going to be extremely busy during the coming year. Many of you may wish to know I'm teaching Geography to Seventh Graders and another class called "English enhancement" for students with ESL needs. The geography class I think I can handle, but I'm uncertain about the "English Enhancement" class. I'm thinking of trying to get them some time in the computer lab and giving them all blogs to write for writing practice. I get the impression most of them have issues with reading comprehension and vocabulary.

Like Japan, there is still much I don't understand, so I'm trying to be patient and not judge or compare the school or the country too much. But, a period of adjustment definitely will be required!

Socially, I'm kind of lonely. I'm meeting a lot of wonderful new teachers, students, and others, but I feel kind of lonely and unplugged. I'm missing a limb here in Kuwait and I just have to grow a new one.

But I'm doing my best at my job and trying to be social.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Summarized Happenings in Kuwait

Since I arrived in Kuwait, I've done the following:

1. Developed a tasted for Lebanese and Afghani food. There's some good food here, but none of it is particularly healthy. Lots of fried foods and deep fried foods. Arab food also includes lots of very sweet stuff that is no doubt loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. I've found some healthy staples, but eating out will no doubt bring about unhealthy habits.

2. Searched around for a health club or Gym to join to replace Peare. Most of the gyms and healthclubs in Kuwait are segregated by sex. So it looks like I'll be joining a gym that's all males.

3. Gone to a number of new teacher in-service sessions, attended meetings, and done a number of tasks to prepare for the upcoming year in school. I've been busy.

4. Done my best to move into my new apartment on my limited funds. I'm now on the fourth floor of what has been dubbed the "Hawali Hilton" by the resident staff of Universal American School. I reside in a small efficiency apartment with only slightly more square footage than my apartment in Japan and only one bedroom.

5. Gone shopping at numerous places for various household necessities. I'm trying to hold off until my first real paycheck, but I have since bought a rice cooker, and a telephone. I'm not sure how to work the phone yet (or if it works).

6. Shopping and looking around at the old Souk (market) here in Kuwait. A friend took me down on the bus for a visit. I scored an old school Iranian coin with the Shah of Iran. The store also had heaps of giant Persian carpets made from silk. Some were positively huge. They featured all sorts of designs, from traditional Persian themes to Hollywood movie stars. I saw one large silk rug with Leonardo D'Caprio in Titanic that was shockingly well rendered. Wish I'd had my camera.

7. Forgetting to bring my camera anywhere I go! I'll have some pictures of various places up soon! Not that there is much to photograph. The area I live in is not exactly Beverly Hills. I live near a computer district filled with dozens (hundreds?) of tiny shops all selling the same 50 computer components and accessories.

8. Taking care of matters for my visa and long awaited civil ID card. All foreigners in Kuwait (most of the country) are required to carry a civil ID. I had to take a chest X-ray, HIV/Hepatitis A test AGAIN, and I just got fingerprinted this morning. This was the most awful part of living in Kuwait so far.
Because I and most of the other teachers are white people from developed countries, we get pushed to the front of the line (8 hours long) in the government offices. Imagine waiting at the DMV for 4 hours and 20-something VIPs come and get to cut in line. The Bangladeshi guy didn't like it either. I felt awful about it, but did what I was told. I hope I don't have to do that again.

Fanta Commercials

I found these Japanese Fanta Commercials my friend Paula's blog. Pretty hilarious if I say so myself.

Japanese Fanta Commercials

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

That Irresponsible Uncle

I must apologize to my sister and brother-in-law for a belated congratulations on their new baby. I only hope they can try and understand the transitions and stress I'm going through right now with moving to Kuwait and all. I've been very busy and very stressed.

Friends of my family no doubt already know my sister gave birth to a baby boy last week. Seth Andrew Holler decided to finally make his debut in Kentucky last week on Thursday evening. So I am officially an uncle now. Pretty cute for a newborn if I say so myself.

It was yesterday night that I was with all the new teachers at a swanky Lebanese restaurant for the official Universal American School new teacher welcoming party. We were all stuffing our faces with hummus, olives, and kebabs and making polite small talk. One woman was there with her husband and two young kids. I was having fun teasing their young daughter with stupid human tricks and other silly jokes. While the following seldom occurs when I make attempts at humor, I had their daughter, and most of the rest of the table in stitches. Not long after, the woman remarked, "You know, you're probably one of those crazy uncles who gets to have all kinds of fun corrupting kids but no responsibility for raising them."

I smiled, and said, "yep!" While I don't know if children are in my future or not yet, I at least know I can be that crazy black sheep uncle who shows up at family gatherings and fosters endearment with flatulence, bathroom humor, and wildly inappropriate gifts that kids love and parents dread. The potential damage I can inflict on this innocent young mind will no doubt require years of therapy, letters to Dear Abby, and perhaps even an appearance on Maury Pauvich.

So I say, to my sister and her no doubt sleep deprived grad school husband: Well done! These are pictures of my new nephew. As my dad noted, Jr's not a week old and he's already smirking and copping an attitude!

Friday, August 17, 2007

دولة الكويت!

Well, for anyone who may not know, I arrived here in Kuwait safe and sound. I've been here about 24 hours now. My initial impressions are as follows.

1. This country is very HOT.
2. This country is very DUSTY.
3. Kuwait has great Indian food.
4. Kuwait has a lot of computer stores.
5. Kuwait has a lot of Jewelry stores.
6. Everyone at Universal American School seems really friendly.
7. Did I mention that this country is HOT?

I went down this morning to see the school and get some work done. The Middle School principal said things were still being arranged, but that I would be teaching social studies and language arts. He gave me a brief tour of the school. Its kind of odd, because the school is gargantuan compared to the desks, lockers, chairs, and other furniture in the classroom. The architects probably tried to make it imposing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

See Dave Grow a Beard!

Before leaving for Kuwait, I went to Los Angeles to visit one of my best friends, David Hanson.
David works as a church youth and college/young adult ministries pastor in Camarillo, California, just north of Los Angeles. We've literally known each other since we were born, but also went to college together.

We tried to catch a boat out to the Channel Islands north of Los Angeles, but that didn't work out very well. The boat was already booked when we called, and standby didn't look promising at all.

So after the Channel Islands thing didn't work out, we just hung out while Dave showed me around his area. While we didn't do anything really special, we had a great time catching up with each other. I literally have not seen David Hanson in three years. We went hiking and stuck our feet in a big tar pit and walked along a beach near Santa Barbara. That evening we held a BBQ for ourselves and some of Dave's friends in California. We grilled up a big hunk of tri-tip, but we kind of built the fire a little too hot and burnt the meat.

However, I also cooked peach cobbler for the first time in ages. His friends all raved about it (something I'm used to), and it came out perfectly. One thing's for sure: you have to try if you want to mess up peach cobbler.

He drove me to the Airport so that I might board my flight to Kuwait. Anyways, here's my best bud Dave and his new Spartan beard that caught the eye of the TSA.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Skydiving in Longmont

As readers of my father's blog probably know by now, I spent Saturday afternoon in Longmont Colorado jumping out of an airplane. That's right folks, I went skydiving. I called up a company that works out of an airport in Denver's northern suburban edges. Then I paid them a heap of money to fly me up into the sky and let me jump out of an airplane.

It was a great day. I got up to the hangar and checked in. I signed six pages of liability release forms before waiting around for my tandem instructor to show me how to do things. Finally, "Dave" showed up. Some readers will laugh when I tell them that "Dave" was very much like Dave Pedersen from NAU. Only this Dave was bigger, louder, and walked with a lot more swagger.

He showed me how we would jump and we got on the truck to take us out to the airplane. We got on some twin engine prop plane with a small door at the airport that took off quickly. The sliding door on the airplane was partly opened as we climbed into the sky. It was at that point I realized how absurd the situation was. I was going to jump out of an airplane strapped to a musclebound adrenaline junky.

When it happened though it was great. Actually falling out of the airplane happened extremely quickly. I was slightly disappointed that the airplane as I fell out of the plane, but I'm not complaining. Floating through wind and space, I watched Long's Peak to the North and the distant, but rapidly approaching suburban landscape of Longmont. The big box stores, controlled access freeways and airport runway slowly swelled with the wind in my face. While the freefall was less than 2 minutes, it really took an eternity.

Then Dave brought me back to reality screaming "PULL! PULL! PULL!..." So I pulled the orange golf ball on the rip cord and released the parachute. The harness groaned as the canopy caught the air. The instructor showed me how to steer for a couple minutes and then told me to hold my feet up as we came down. The landing was far softer than I imagined, but I have a feeling that that was his skill more than a typical experience. Hard to say, but I have a feeling not all landings are created equal.

But people! You absolutely HAVE to do this! This is the greatest rush you could ever imagine! You will never regret doing something like this! I'm definitely going to do this again!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bronco's Training Camp 2007

I've spent the last week here in the Denver area with my folks. One of the highlights of the week was going with my Dad to the Denver Bronco's annual gear-up and preparation for the season. Yes folks, Friday concluded the second and last week of "Bronco's Training Camp." Millions of Bronco's fans turn up at their sprawling training facility to watch Mike Shanahan whip the Broncos into shape.

And like all people who need to get a life, Bronco fans call in sick and go down to watch the Denver defence play the Denver offense. Two really great things about Bronco's training camp: 1. You have front row seats on the grass. 2. Its totally free. Companies even give away free ice cream and orange colored milk (that actually tastes good).
For those of you who don't know, the Denver Broncos stand triumphant as the greatest football team in the history of the universe. Being at the pinnacle of their craft, the Broncos have to train hard to maintain their edge. So they run a real tight ship. My father and I watched with gaping mouths as the well oiled machine relentlessly executed drills and plays. After warming up, the offense played the defense for two solid hours. Shanahan and the other coaches would blow their whistles and the lineup would change in seconds. They wouldn't waste a minute. The entire team appears to be very disciplined and very well organized.

This year looks somewhat promising. They got rid of Plummer and it looks like they are giving the QB job to Jay Cutler. He's real big and real fast. He can throw fast too. I'm not sure yet, but they may have a new Lumberjack backup quarterback named Preston Parsons. There were actually a few NAU alumni who are Bronco's now.

We got to see a number of other faces up close. Esteemed veteran John Lynch was certainly visible (see picture below, left) but then again he was the only old white guy there besides Shanahan). I certainly hope I'm half as buff as Lynch when I'm 36. Sam Adams, at 6'4" and 350 pounds ranks among the biggest people I've ever seen. Preston Parsons threw a touch down pass that some other guy caught not ten feet in front of us.
Yeah, the Bronco's rule!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lisa & Her Kids

Besides eating dinner at Macayo's with the Godemann clan the other evening, I also got a chance to visit my cousin Lisa (now Lisa Bloom) at her new home in the Phoenix area. She and her husband Corbitt are busy raising a family of three little tykes in the Sonoran Desert. Her kids are great fun, pretty well behaved, and impossibly cute and funny (see pictures).

My cousin Jonathan and I used to have tons of fun torturing Lisa to no end as children. Together we were a force unstoppable in the endless beligerent harassment of Lisa. We relentlessly heaped agonizing grief on Lisa. Who would have guessed she would put all those pranks behind us and be so kind and generous as to open up her home. Jonathan and I are probably lucky she's still talking to us!

In any event, they just had their home beautifully remodeled and have a great pool. The kids were all excited to get the mail because they would learn who their teachers were for the following year. If only my life could be so simple. Her oldest is Shannon. Then her son, Donovan, followed by her youngest daughter Peyton.
Lisa must be doing a pretty good job at the whole mom thing, because she's got three great kids that are fun to hang out with. Somehow she juggles swim team practice, piano lessons, soccer, and PTA meetings. Good thing she's got a minivan! Seriously though, Lisa's kids are great and you should consider yourself blessed if you ever get to meet them.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Crown King & The Senator Highway

I used my grandfather's Chevy Blazer to drive up to Crown King and then took the 3 hour long Senator Highway all the way to Prescott Arizona. It was quite a drive, with rain threatening flash floods the entire time. I agonized over the decision to do it, but ultimately did. I'm glad I lived in the moment and have absolutely no regrets.

To give some context,while returning to Prescott from Phoenix in my grandfather's truck along Interstate 17, I saw the exit approaching for Crown King and the Senator Highway. The Senator Highway would hardly qualify as such, and basically consists of a narrow, anfractuous, rugged dirt road that winds its way up and through the jagged Bradshaw Mountains. It is the only road that accesses the old mining town (village?) of Crown King that I know of and is a place that few people ever get to see due to its remoteness.

Slowly grinding up the highway, I previously recall going up near Crown King for some rock climbing with Jake Daley many years ago while working at Friendly Pines Summer Camp. I believe that was in 2001. Back then, we drove around the mountains for an hour. Then we drove almost another hour from I-17 to Crown King, but stopped just short to go up some rugged granite slabs for climbing. It was a good time, if hot and dry, and I only wished I had gone all the way into Crown King. But I was concerned about preserving the structural integrity of my rickety old Saturn, and felt I was pushing my luck driving further up the rugged road in the summer Arizona heat as it stood already. I was frankly surprised my little green machine made it through that trip as far as it did without a hitch.
This time though, I had my Grandfather's trusty Chevy Blazer! The Blazer's capacity for navigating 4WD roads in Arizona, ground clearance, engine cooling system, and general capacity for taking a beating in a brutal desert were all several orders of magnitude superior to the scrappy green sedan I used to ride around in. Today could be was my best chance. So I exited the Interstate and started up the mountain, only to see clouds roll in and hear the Arizona monsoon thunderstorms start 30 minutes later. I debated turning back, as I had no desire to get caught overnight behind a flooded creek bed on the wrong side of two canyons. But I was already 30 minutes off Interstate 17, and the thought of going back could prove just as risky, as the lower country and creek beds most likely to flood were behind me, and the higher mountains w in front.

I kept going, hoping to at least reach the minimal services in the booming metropolis of Crown King before being overtaken by any thunderstorm. Despite my misgivings about the weather (at times the rain was so intense I couldn't see 20 feet out the window). I kept following the spectacularly rugged and exposed track as it snaked precariously along a mountain ridgeline. As I finally pulled into Crown King after an hour of stressed nerves, the rain fizzled out into a light, pleasant drizzle. I could breathe a sigh of relief at last as the overcast clouds kept it cool enough to ease my concerns about an engine overheating. (not that I needed to worry about the Blazer, but this was one of the wilder parts of Arizona that leaves no margin for error)

Crown King was even more rustic and "historic" than I imagined. An old mining town settled over a century ago, it still lives in another era. With the exception of the late 1980's pickups (historic in their own right), the town is one of those rare places where isolation and distance have kept father time at bay for far too long. The town is still inhabited by "prospectors" who cling tenaciously to their "claims" and hope to strike it rich. The men in town wear long beards, cowboy hats, dirty overalls, and pistol revolvers. Not one paved road in the town or any building less than 40 years old. This was definitely the "Old West." In the end, I left what appeared to be the General store (and probably had been for the last 115 years) and headed on up to Prescott via the Senator Highway. Only 3o more miles and 3.5 more hours to Prescott!

The pace was a little faster than I had anticipated. I managed to do it in about 3 hours. I never had to use 4 wheel drive, but the constant twists and turns and washed out sections proved to be a constant impediment. This section of the Senator highway also didn't have quite the scenic views that the first half did. I got some great views of the mountains, but the valleys between them were smaller and the cloud cover impeded visibility. Lots of Piñon and Juniper Pine mixed in with lower desert flora. Dashes of scrub oak everywhere completed the palette that was pretty common in the foothills above the desert. Shockingly, quite a few Ponderosa pines still stood in the area. I would have figured the vicious drought of the last few years would have spelled the end to any of these majestic perennials this close to Phoenix, but a surprising number were still holding on.
I also passed the old Palace Station, an old US Forest Service lookout about an hour and a half outside Prescott. See pictures! After another hour or so of slow going dirt road, I wound up pulling into Prescott around 6:30, passing by Friendly Pines Camp. I made many good friends there and have many fond memories of working there. I debated stopping in to say hi, but I don't think anyone except maybe 3 or 4 would even remember me, and I wasn't sure if they were even still there. If I'd had more time, I might have done so, but as things stood, I needed to get the Blazer washed off and get back in time for Evorine's home cooking.

Visiting Ola and the Hansons

I went to Scottsdale to visit Ola and my longtime friends the Hansons. Regular readers from Arizona and longtime friends know Cathy and Craig Hanson were friends (and sometime roommates) of my parents at NAU during the Edo period. As a child growing up in Denver, I got to be good friends with David and Eric Hanson, who, like myself, are both Lumberjacks as well. They moved to Arizona when I was a kid, but our families have always kept in touch. During my time at NAU, I got to be good friends with David Hanson, and another guy named Ola Iranloye.

Coming from Nigeria, Ola is now a computer programmer at a software company in Phoenix. He and I used to hang out with another friend of mine in Flagstaff named Paul Brodar. I stopped in at the Hansons and got to visit with all of them. They served dinner to Ola and myself, while Ola and I consumed said dinner. It was a great arrangement! Seriously though, all of the Hansons are some of my dearest friends. Cathy Hanson in particular is one of the greatest conversationalists I know and is widely regarded as such among our circle of friends.

Eric is still doing his yearlong round the world mission trip with He is currently in Thailand if I'm correct. Check out his blog here.

David is working as a youth pastor at Crossroads Community Church in the Los Angeles area. I haven't seen him in over three years and I'm hoping I get to see him before shipping out to Kuwait. Here's to the Hansons! Cheers!