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End of Antarctic Season and Travels

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Mt Paterson Summit

Italy. Friends and family keep asking about my blog and why I haven’t posted lately so here is a brief explanation.  We had an immensely busy Antarctic season during which we had very poor communications. After we finished the ITASE Traverse to South Pole Luci and I packed up all the equipment to ship back to McMurdo and eventually we ourselves hopped on a LC130H back to Town. But not before taking victory in the annual South Pole round the world race in the heavy equipment division with our Cat Challenger55 forks.   No sooner did we arrive back at McMurdo were we swept up in the excitement and confusion of an aircraft recovery mission. About the same time we were driving the last few KMs to the South Pole on the other side of the continent, a Basler DC-3 had just finished a botched take-off procedure which rendered the plane useless but with no injury to the plane-load of scientist and crew on board. It was decided to send down a team of mechanics to try to get the plane to fly north before the end of the summer season.  In order to accomplish this task they needed to have someone organize a camp to work out of. This, of course, is where Luci and I come in.    

Since, at the time, it was semi-secret I didn’t want to publish anything about it and when we finally got camp set up we were plagued by the same Iridium data problems that have dogged me at other camps. By the time we got back to McMurdo it was old news and my mind was already in NZ. Luci and I bought a van in NZ back in September and were looking forward to enjoying the last days of summer. We bought little inflatable pack-rafts and were eagerly awaiting spending some time on a couple of NZ’s amazing rivers. But, as luck would have it there were problems with shipping and the boats arrived only a few days before we were scheduled to fly to Australia. Just enough time to give them a go on the Rakaia River and the scare the pants off of Luci and on Lake Rotoroa where she had a painful encounter with a wasp…make that five wasps. So now she gets anxiety just thinking about them.

At this point I had already gotten out of the habit of writing blog entries.  I have never properly learned to use the software that my host site uses as a blogging platform and uploading photos was becoming very time consuming.  Luci loses patience with me immediately at public internet cafes and since I was still trying to sooth her frazzled nerves from the Rakaia trip, I let her have her wish.  While she went up to the North Island to hang out with some of  her Yoga friends I stayed south and spent my time boating, kiting and climbing on my own. I had one of my most memorable times in NZ in a campsite frequented by a very diverse group of on-the-cheap, world-traveler, outdoors people near Aurthur’s pass.

After getting the van stored and our NZ affairs sorted out I met Luci at the Auckland airport and we flew to Australia where we were hosted by a good friend of ours from our days at the WAIS Divide camp in Antarctica and his wife. He is an American and she a Kiwi. They met in Antarctica and now live in Launceston, Tasmania.  She is a world class chef and he is working on a career in commercial diving.  We had the most relaxing time during our stay which consisted mostly of visiting local sites, doing a bit of boating and diving, and talking about the future.  We also spent a considerable amount of time sorting out some of our travel details for our up coming trip to Thailand.

Our next stop was a long weekend in Hong Kong to visit another couple of friends. She was a high school classmate of Luci’s who we coincidently ran into in the queue to board the daily LHR LIN city hopper that has become the staple of our jet-set lifestyle. Apparently it has become a part of hers as well.  She was returning from HKG on an apartment hunting mission and was preparing for marriage in the coming months. He husband is another Italian who is in the petro-chemical industry. They moved permanently to HKG after they got married last May. We had a great weekend of dining and absorbing the massivity of Hong Kong.  They were excellent hosts and by some miracle I was able to speak the most fluent Italian right-off the plane (sometimes it takes me a bit to get back into the habit).

After these friendly visits we were on our own in SE Asia.  The original idea was to do a bunch of floating on the Mekong river but after Luci’s adverse reaction to moving bodies of water, this plan was later modified.  The new plan found Luci studying more placid forms of art in the discipline of Thai Massage.  I, on the other hand, rented a motorcycle and tore off across the northern Thai landscape in search of good rivers and good times. Being the end of the dry season the rivers were not at their best and, since I am crazy but not stupid, I decided not to brave what I did find solo.  I did have a couple of genuine village experiences after getting lost about 70kms down a dirt road on what I though would be a short-cut. We had a very enjoyable time around Chiang Mai in which we made many friends and which culminated in a two-day float down the Mae Kok river in our pack-rafts which did nothing to boost Luci’s confidence in moving bodies of water but floating past bathing elephants definitely has its allure.

After very long deliberation we chose to go south to Thailand’s southern beaches instead of to Laos and the Mekong river.  We went to Railey Beach near Krabi. As usual, the beach didn’t do much for me, but the rock formations and the islands were stunning.  We spent a week in a bungalow with another diverse community of on-the-cheap, world-traveler, outdoors people. In fact it was the ones in NZ who recommended this place to me. Luci got to try some flat water in her Yak after a few days of coaxing and I think she realized that it is a lot more work than floating down river.

So now that vacation is over, it is back to work…oh, right we quit our jobs here last summer.  Last summer we opened Rifugio Boccalatte and then turned it over to a friend/colleague for the indefinite future.  I can’t say that I don’t miss it but Luci certainly doesn’t. And, since I am on a “make-Luci-happy-and-you’ll-be-happy” campaign, I feel great about dropping seven summers of my life in the lap of someone else…I guess.  Anyway, last summer I spent my spare time working on my motorcycle which somehow blossomed into getting paid to work on other people’s motorcycles and to lend clout by virtue of my Americaness to Milan’s only custom Harley Davidson shop. I found myself spending my days elbow deep in Softtails and Fatbobs contemplating the many meanings of the words “Golden Rod”  through a line of acquaintances which ultimately finish once again at an old high school friend of Luci’s. The job didn’t pay well but I enjoyed the come and go as you wish schedule they allowed me and the opportunity to learn a more colloquial Italian language. I was looking forward getting my mind off of my alpine days under the fairings of iron horses only to discover upon our grand reentry to Milan that there had been chaos in the shop culminating in the departure of the head mechanic. Ironically, I was offered to come back at a better pay-rate even though the lead mechanic was my guide to the world of motorcycle mechanics.

I still go in to work most days but the shop feels about as guided as a headless horseman. I enjoy the work but there is an air of impending crisis and I don’t feel great about getting too tied to the business end of this muzzleloader. So what do we see on our horizon? Well here are the certainties: we are going back to the Antarctic as usual in October.  We will be working directly with a research grant associated with the ANDRILL project in McMurdo Sound. This contract will only take us to the beginning of December but we are presently trying to link up another contract with Raytheon to finish the season.  At the moment we are making all of our medical and dental visits in order to physically qualify for deployment. A couple of very good friends of ours are getting married in the middle of July and we have been invited so we are planning on being in the States at the beginning of July. It could be my first 4th in the USA in over 10 years and it would be Luci’s first in her lifetime. As my grand-pap might remind me, I could soon be enjoying my first fifth on the fourth in ten.

And what of our immediate future…? In lieu of our current employment situation we are considering doing what we do best: keep moving.  I recently bought the Lonely Planet-Western Balkans Guide with the idea of riding the motorcycle down to Greece to the WRC race.  If this pans out I will try to keep you posted. 

Round and Around

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

Hard to believe that it has been since Luang Prabang that I wrote last. I kept telling everyone I was going to write when I got back to Italy.  As soon as I got back I got a job working at a friend’s custom motorcycle shop.  When I wasn’t working I was either battling Italian bureaurocracy or preparing for our next motorcycle trip (which we have just returned from).

I have decided that the best way to catch up is just to post a ton of pictures with long captions.  I am going to start before we arrived in Southeast Asia with some pictures of Japan


In Tokyo we Stayed in Asakusa, one of the older parts of the City.


Down Tokyo 

Tokyo really exemplifies the Japanese ability to integrate the traditional withthe modern.



We had a Japan Rail pass which we used to take the Shinkansen (known to the west as the Bullet Train) up to Hokaido.  We slept and ate in this awesome little ski lodge in Niseko.  Every night they organized a trip to a different Onsen (hotspring). It snowed like crazy while we were there but was considered and overall light snow year. 


Nagano Luci

We also spent a couple of days in a traditional Ryokan near Nagano and went skiing on the Olympic Ski slopes…


DSC00443 (Large) (Custom).JPG 

And went to see the monkeys that live near a hotspring near Utuoshi. But, after four months in the Antarctic winter in Japan got old quickly…



And we welcomed the heat and chaos of Southeast Asia. We flew into Bangkok but only spent enough time there to organize our train tickets and visa for Laos. In a couple of days we were in the capitol of Vientianne.   


Baja Luke 

Though I failed to mention this to most of my family for fear of worrying them, we travelled by motorcycle.  We rented a Honda XR 250 Baja; a super bike for the terrain.  A buit uncomfortable on the cheeks but we never felt a lack of power.  Since lodging and food is so cheap, there is never a need to carry camping gear which, in addition to the wife, can make a small bike like the Baja a bit hard to manage.


Offroad Luci 

There are many nice roads being build by the Chinese in Laos at the moment but the majority of the roads are still in pretty rough shape. 


Udom Xai 

Even some of the larger towns have only dirt roads in them.


The Open Road Laos

Traffic is a relative rarity but the traffic that there is tends to be either very small (motorcycle) or very large (truck).  What I found to be more dangerous than other motor traffic was livestock and people in the roads.  The main thoroughfares are lined for miles and miles by little villages and there are always dogs, chickens, pigs, cows, and water buffalo crossing the roadway in apparent oblivion to motorists.  Even the villagers don’t seem to consider motor traffic too much of a threat and are often seen lounging in the middle of the road or laying out stuff to dry on the asphalt.   


Hot Springs 

Having the motorcycle gave us a level of freedom that backpackers simply cannot obtain on public forms of transportation.  We were able to get to places where there was no public transport like this hot spring.  Having the bike really allowed us to see a great deal of the wilder parts of Laos in a short amount of time with a minimum of logistical nightmares.


Stupa Luangnamtha   

But like many parts of SE Asia, it lived for the most part of the last century under the bomb. This stupa in Luang Numtha was toppled during the Indochin wars. Laos became the most bombed country in the history of the world during the Vietman Era when the US waged the “secret war” against the Pathet Lao.  There still remains tons of unexploded ordinance all over the countryside which makes exploration of places off established paths unadvisable. So for the most part we stuck to the main roads.



It was the hot, dry, smokey season in Laos while we were there as you can see from this picture of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang. 


Nam Tha 

And this one of the Nam La. 


Vang Vieng  

Desipte a nightmareish modern history, the Lao (like the Thai) are some of the nicest people I have ever met.  Unfortunately, I usually take mostly land scape shots (like this one in Vang Vieng) and don’t have many pictures of the village life in Laos. 


Baja Luke and Luci

The rainy season finally arrived during the last two days of our trip. We had to scurry around the markets looking for rain gear. We had a couple of days of very cold and wet riding but we made it back to Vientianne and finally Bangkok in time for the annual water festival Song Kran where people throw water at each other in the streets. 

But the middle of April we were back in Italy…But I’ll save that story for another chapter.

Luang Prabang

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007
Wat Maha That We are approaching the end of our stay here at this World Heritage Site.  We have been relaxing from some long days on the road from the Laos capital of Vientiane.  This is a ... [Continue reading this entry]

Same Same (only different)

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007
We have traveled many miles since I last wrote. I tried writing from Japan but luci got impatient with me as usual. I got some pictures edited but I didn't manage to get them posted. I'll get ... [Continue reading this entry]

Up, Up and Away.

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Wow! Free airport internet.  This is a first for me.  These Aussies sure are an advanced society.

Well, I now have a full blown cold.  Medicine here is extremely expensive.  I guess what I am saving on internet I already spent ... [Continue reading this entry]


Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
Sydney Sunrise

Just a quick update to let everyone who follows my blog know that we made it safely to Sydney.  We had to catch a super-early shuttle to the airport for our 0645 departure.  Their computers ... [Continue reading this entry]

Back on Land

Friday, March 2nd, 2007
Te Pukatea Beach  Here are a few pictures from Our Kayaking trip with my two brothers. It was a good time overall.  We had a variety of conditions to conntend with (but no rain) which kept ... [Continue reading this entry]

Out of the Bush

Saturday, February 24th, 2007
 Wangapeka track1 We made it out of the bush yesterday.  We had a charmed trip through the Kiwi Bush.  We got lucky from the very beginning. We took the bus from Christchurch to Westport and arrived ... [Continue reading this entry]

Christchurch and Beyond

Saturday, February 17th, 2007


We finally made it off the Ice.  It felt better than usual this year. We had far too much time at McMurdo.  It was too long to stay busy but too short to ... [Continue reading this entry]