Kilimanjaro: Climbing Africa’s Tallest Mountain

From the Lava Tower, we began a two-and-a-half day traverse of Kili’s southern slope. That afternoon, we descended to the beautiful Baranco camp, with steep cliffs on either side of the broad valley, the snows of Kilimanjaro peaking through the clouds behind us, and villages glimmering through the blue haze on the distant plane to our front.

Cartoon-like trees called Senecio Kilimanjari in my guide book stood throughout the valley.

The porters, who’d walked directly from Shira to Baranco, had already set up camp. They rested in their crowded little tents or stood with hands in their pockets, joking with one another.

I was lucky. My body adjusted well to walking and altitude and I had been wondering if it wouldn’t be truer to the spirit of adventure to carry my own tent, food, fuel, but I quickly grew accustomed to the luxury porters provide.

My only task upon arrival at camp was unzipping the door of the tent they had pitched, pulling some belongings from my pack, and waiting for the assistant cook to summon me in his broken English to dinner. (Read more from

Also, see more photos here.

Climbing in Kunar

Rusty & Pack Animals.

I don’t imagine too many people would vacation nowadays in Afghanistan, especially not in Kunar Province, but maybe. The most likely (and cheap) way for an American to get there is to be in the Army, or, as in my case, get called back to the Army after three years of civilian life for one more combat tour.

Bull Hill was the name of one of the observation posts overlooking my base. Usually, we changed guards on Fridays, because Fridays are the weekend in Islamic countries, and a good day to reorganize. There were generally fewer attacks.

Also, since we were a Provincial Reconstruction Team and did business with local government officials, tribal elders, contractors and other Afghan big shots, there wasn’t often reason to run missions on their weekend. . . .

Anyway, Bull Hill. Occasionally, I joined the soldiers making the climb to relieve last week’s guards. . . . (Read more on

A Brief Tour of the Holy Land

Three bums touring the Holy Land

Well, almost a year after my tour of the Holy Land, I published the essay about my trip. It’s long – almost 8,000 words. Two fairly well-known magazines expressed interest, then said no. Finally, the great travel-writing website, published it. I’m very proud of this essay.

A Brief Tour of the Holy Land

     Last summer, my friend Steffen and I decided to follow through on plans to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories. We wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and went despite the war between Israel and Lebanon that had just begun.
     We happened to be Iraq veterans – in addition to fishing partners, drinking partners, each other’s wingmen, concerned citizens of the world, and students of the Arabic language, which was how we met at the University of Iowa. Officially, I was an M.F.A. student in the Writers’ Workshop. Steffen was moving to Jordan to continue studying Arabic, so it seemed a natural detour for him, and I still had deployment money left from my time in Iraq. I promised my mother to not get hurt, and to stay away from the actual fighting in Lebanon, Northern Israel, and Gaza. (more)

The Wall in Bethlehem