Corpus Christi

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South American Porcupine wants a smooch.

Reading this week:

  • War on Peace by Ronan Farrow

This past weekend my mom and I went to go visit my sister in Texas. My sister works at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi and performs in “Wild Flight,” which is the aquarium’s bird and animal show. Mom found some deal on Southwest to fly us down there so we bundled up and away we went.

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The aquarium.

The whole state of Texas quite frankly makes me uncomfortable. Back at the Academy there was a “movement order” you could participate in to go see a bowl game the Navy football team was in over in Houston. I went and got kicked out of a bar for being too drunk (I was, in fact, too drunk) and then left Texas the next day and I haven’t been back since. Also it seems to be a very flat place from what I saw of it. And full of Texans. But my sister has made for herself a rather comfortable living there and so yeah. We went.

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My sister rockin’ the show.

The first day we were there we accompanied my sister to work at the aquarium. We sort of had to because she only has her one car, but also of course she wanted to show off her work there and got us in for free. It is a pretty nice aquarium though if you know someone who works there I highly recommend it. She got us in to several animal encounters throughout the day and we got to meet a whole variety of animals, like the porcupine up top.

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Me and a cat you had to be very gentle around.

Besides the cat and the porcupine, we also got to meet a giant octopus (though they were a little shy) and a tiny baby alligator and a whole variety of birds. So pretty awesome! We spent the whole day at the aquarium (because, you know, my sister works full time) and then head home.

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The next day we spent the whole day at the USS Lexington. The Lexington is right next door to the aquarium, and I didn’t think we’d wind up spending like a whole day there, but we did. It is, after all, a pretty big ship. It’s an aircraft carrier though, which like, lame, but hey these things have engineering spaces so they’re not a total wash. This ship is of course the second Lexington, the Lady Lex having been sunk and CV-16 here named in her honor. Her nickname was the “Blue Ghost” because she used to be blue and was reported has having been sunk a lot. But she never sunk!

On the ship they have a wide variety of planes from throughout her service career, and like, two different Blue Angels at least. That, uh, that’s really all the intelligent things I have to say about planes. This ship has an escalator to get the pilots to the flight deck, but if you didn’t want to climb 12 decks worth of ladders frankly you should have gone submarines. That’s why I went subs after all.

Besides the flight deck, the ship has extensive self-guided tours throughout most of the other operational portions of the ship. You can even go down into one of the enginerooms. They didn’t let you go into any of the boilerrooms, though I got to run around tracing the main steam piping from the bulkheads to the engines. This being an aircraft carrier they had both high pressure and low pressure turbines connected to the shaft via reduction gears, and I was rather stunned at how small the high-pressure turbines were, though I guess yeah of course. I don’t think they could have been much bigger than our turbines on the submarine. But they had a low-pressure turbine to go with it and those guys are in fact pretty big. So there ya go.

After that our third day in Texas was a trip to go look at the South Padre Island seashore (it was quite windy) and then to go antiquing. Before antiquing mom lectured me that the point of antiquing was to look at stuff and not to buy stuff (I wondered how mom thought she had never given me a similar lecture in my 30 years of life) but it was only her that wound up buying stuff. The next day my sister dropped us off at the airport on her way to work and back to Maryland we went!

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USS New Jersey

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“Firepower for Freedom,” the Big J herself.

After waxing poetic about the Iowa-class, I got to go on the USS New Jersey this past weekend. “This past weekend,” by the way, was in July because I am way ahead on these blog posts that no one reads. The New Jersey is parked across the river from Philadelphia in Camden, New Jersey, and I was in Philadelphia to see the Carly Rae Jepsen concert which was fantastic:

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She is very blurry and my phone camera sucks but look it is her!!!

The weekend started off right because as soon as I got to the hotel room I checked to see if I had a view of the New Jersey and you can bet your sweet ass I did:

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But anyways the ship herself. I went to go see her the day after the concert and it was hot as balls. It was hot as balls the day of the concert as well, but that’s irrelevant. I got to the ship right as she opened at 0930 and there were only a few other guys there besides myself, all Navy enthusiasts. I took the self-guided tour. The New Jersey is the third of the Iowa-class battleships I have been on, besides the Iowa and the Wisconsin. I have physically laid eyes on the Missouri several times before but never quite got around to touring her to complete the set. All that to say that I didn’t see anything radically new and different on this tour, but it’s always super awesome to see this view:

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That bridge is doomed.

Of the ships I have seen I thought the New Jersey’s crew had done a particularly good job of keeping her up and making her a really nice place to tour. I was most amused by some of the details they added to make it really realistic:

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The Naval Academy has a “sample Midshipman room” that tourists can see. It has the layout of one of the (nicer, two-man vice three-man) rooms and has some random crap in there to show the sort of things Mids have. But if you were a Midshipman you know it’s stocked with books no one ever reads and crap no one ever has, but the New Jersey took a different direction. I knew I was among people that cared about realism when there was a snuff tin in someone’s locker and a donut and coffee on the XO’s desk. Realism!

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One thing that also amuses me on a sort of fundamental level is when these ships still have danger tags hanging. The above picture has one and there were several others that are dated 1990, from the ship’s last decommissioning. I love it. I always wonder if the WAFs are still around? Is the tagout log? What if they ever need to operate that equipment? Who is authorized to clear that tag? Does anyone care? Can you still cause an incident report? The world will never know.

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The above picture is of two five-inch cannons. On the New Jersey (and other Iowa-class ships of course), these 5″ guns are the little secondary ones on the side that they use when it is too bothersome to crank over the 16″ cannons. But on a ship like an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer the main armament is a single little ole’ 5″ gun right on the front. The DDGs also have missiles (though the Iowas had some bolted on when they were re-commissioned) and those are neat I guess, and they probably have better targeting systems, but the Arleigh Burke’s pride and joy is just an afterthought on the New Jersey and besides the donuts and snuff and danger tags that also amuses me deeply.

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Those were the highlights of the tour. I got to see inside one of the turrets, and some of the engineering spaces too though not as much as I would have liked (I could only poke my head into the boiler and turbine rooms). I spent about 2.5 hours on the ship before heading out and making it to the bus station to head back home. A real must-see if you’re ever in the area.

Lord Jim

Lord Jim

Reading this week:

  • The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power
  • Why Europe Intervenes in Africa by Catherine Gegout

So this post is about both Lord Jim and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I read Lord Jim in the Peace Corps and only came across it because it was free for Kindle on Amazon. I found the novel to be very powerful and it resonated with me on a personal level. It follows Jim, in Joseph Conrad’s “dude telling a story is the story” style, who we meet as he is first mate on the Patna, a steamship carrying Muslims on the Hajj. After the ship strikes an underwater object and appears ready to sink, Jim abandons ship with the other crewmembers, leaving the passengers to their fate. Once they reach port, the other crewmembers run away, but Jim faces a trial for his and their actions. After this he spends a great deal of time running away from anyone who might even have heard of him, before finding some level of glory on a remote island.

What made this book stick with me was the nature of Jim’s failure. Most of the failure I think you’ll find written about or shown in movies is just not reaching a goal. The hero tries really really hard but just can’t make it. They run as fast as they can but don’t make the touchdown, or fight as hard as they can but just don’t beat the bad guy. This is a relatable and blameless sort of failure. Maybe you studied really hard and tried to write the best admission essay possible but you just didn’t get into that dream school. So you failed, but as long as you put in the best effort possible that failure isn’t really your fault.

But Jim’s failure in Lord Jim is of a whole different sort. Jim is a relatively experienced seaman serving as an officer onboard a ship carrying passengers who’s life he is responsible for. When the ship appears ready to sink, he wants to load the passengers onto lifeboats and do what he can to save them. If he can’t save them, he knows it is his duty to die trying. But meanwhile the rest of the crew is abandoning ship, and doing it as quietly as possible so the passengers don’t panic, rush the lifeboats, and keep the crew from saving themselves. Jim teeters on the edge of this decision, standing dumbstruck as he watches the rest of the crew put the lifeboat to sea. Finally, at the last possible second, Jim jumps into the lifeboat and saves himself, leaving the passengers (so he thinks) to die.

This is a radically different version of failure. Jim knew what the right answer was, knew what his duty was, and instead chose the wrong answer aware the whole time that it was the wrong answer. It’s not that Jim just didn’t try hard enough, it’s not that Jim made a sincere effort and just made a mistake, it’s not that Jim made what he thought was the right decision that later turned out to be wrong, it’s that Jim leapt into that lifeboat knowing the whole time he was abandoning his duty. And while Jim faces his failure with honor in the courtroom, he afterward runs from every port he lands in as soon as he hears his failures are catching up to him.

Which brings me to The Last Jedi. One of the big criticisms of the movie was the character arc of Luke Skywalker. People didn’t want to believe that the young man so full of hope that takes down the Empire in the first three movies could turn into a bitter old man by The Last Jedi. But man when I saw that movie I got it. This Esquire article tries to explain Luke’s exile as some sort of enlightened pacifism, but that’s not it. The only reason Luke could fall so far is because he used to be that young man full of hope and righteousness. In Luke’s flashbacks we learn that the moment of his fall was when he came into Ben Solo’s room with the intent to kill the future Kylo Ren because Luke feared what Ben could become. Luke suffered the same failure that Jim did. Luke’s failure wasn’t that he didn’t try hard enough when training Ben, or that he didn’t kill Ben when he had the chance, Luke’s story is that he chose the wrong answer despite knowing it was wrong. Luke knew that killing Ben was wrong and evil, but chose to do so anyways. He stopped himself before he committed the act, but it was too late and Ben had seen his mentor betray him. Luke knew he had failed and couldn’t look himself in the mirror let alone face anyone else.

I understood both these characters because I had been there. At the Naval Academy and throughout the Navy they teach you integrity is the most important thing. We do trainings on trainings on trainings. We talk about it all the time, discuss scenarios. I was so tired of integrity trainings that I joked that you can only become so integreful, and I should be exempt because I was at maximum integrity (you can’t tell the truth more than 100% of the time). But then one day I was standing as a duty officer and I lied. I thought I had a good reason (and I learned everyone always thinks they do), but I knew it was wrong. And when I got caught and had to face my failure I couldn’t. You have a whole image of yourself and what kind of person you are but when it is put to the test you find out what you’re really made of. When Luke failed he sent himself into exile on Ahch-To. Jim ran away from any port that had even heard of his actions. I spent two years in Zambia.

Jim is saved because he winds up in the remote village of Patusan. Alone and just forced to be the best man he can be, free of anyone who might have heard of his past failures, he finds success and courage. The next time he has to decide to run or to do the right thing, he chooses the correct path. Luke is saved because Rey shows up. When he tells her of his failures, she just doesn’t care. She knows the kind of man Luke is and can be, and that’s all she demands of him. So that’s what he winds up giving. If audiences don’t understand these characters, I think it is because they have never really had to face failure the way these characters have had to. Theirs isn’t a failure of effort but a failure between them and the very nature of their being. Finding yourself after a failure like that is a deeper arc then just running a bit faster or fighting a bit harder.

Battleship

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The greatest movie ever made was the 2012 blockbuster Battleship. I love this movie un-ironically. It is amazing. It is fantastic. It exceeds everything else that has ever hit the silver screen, and quite possibly any other form of art or self-expression that has been hoisted into the human consciousness. I will be having a totally normal day, and I am not joking here, but suddenly this absolute cinematic masterpiece will pop into my head and I can’t think of anything else. This happened today and I spent a few hours clipping out some of my favorite scenes and creating the gifset below with the hopes that magnificent triumph of storytelling will reach a greater appreciation throughout the world.

Let’s start with the basics of this movie. I am not so blinded with love that I don’t notice the movie’s flaws. The movie spends the first ten or fifteen minutes attempting, for some reason, to set up a love story or something. If I was director I would have skipped this and gone straight to fighting aliens. It features Taylor Kitsh as an undisciplined bad boy, forced into the Navy by his older brother (played by Alexander Skarsgård!) after he steals a burrito. The love interest is Brooklyn Decker, who’s admiral father is played by Liam Neeson! The cast this movie puts together! An absolute powerhouse collection of movie stars assembled so that the real stars of the movie, the ships, don’t too far outshine these bit characters. Other significant players include Tadanobu Asano as the captain of a Japanese destroyer inserted to play the straight man, and Gregory D. Gadson as an Army double amputee inserted to provide a message of overcoming setbacks, or something, and also beat the shit out of some aliens. And I haven’t even mentioned that this movie includes freakin’ Rihanna, who is an absolute badass in the role of Petty Officer Cora Raikes.

After the movie sets up this love story/bad boy plot, aliens land. Frankly the Navy handled the first encounter kinda poorly but who gives a shit because now we’ve set up the thrust of the movie: aliens have landed and it is them versus the finest goddamned Navy the world has ever seen. Due to that first encounter our bad boy Taylor Kitsh is in charge of the small fighting force left to actually fight the aliens, with a ragtag crew at his side. The rest of the movie is them kicking some serious alien ass.

So let’s discuss Battleship as it compares to some other examples of the Navy movie genre. The most famous Navy movie of all time is Top GunTop Gun is okay. Launching planes to “Danger Zone” is a great thing to do, but because of that scene the movie peaks right at the start and it’s all downhill from there. Then the rest of the movie you get like what? One and a half dogfights? Psh lame. Plus as a general rule aircraft carriers are pretty uncool; they have Starbucks onboard. Movies like the recent Hunter Killer have a special place in my heart for being submarine movies, but even that action-packed thriller suffers for featuring a Virginia-class; fast attacks are supposed to be nuclear-powered sports cars and any boat with bilge keels is more like a minivan. But what does the movie Battleship offer you?

Mahalo Motherf

Battleship offers you RIHANNA SHOOTING AN ALIEN IN THE FACE WITH A FIVE INCH CANNON. Citizen Kane parades itself around as the greatest movie ever made, but at no point in Citizen Kane does an absolute fantastic piece of naval hardware get used to obliterate an alien at point blank range by one of the most versatile women of the modern era.

Fire Everything

The whole movie (except for the love story portions) is just badass nautical action after badass nautical action. It doesn’t hold back. In the above scene they think they’re down to a one-on-one battle, and they decide to throw literally everything their destroyer has at the alien ship. They launch every missile, they got all the dudes on machine guns, and our bad boy and his Japanese buddy are on the bow with 50 cal rifles for absolutely no good reason except for that it is fucking awesome.

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But the real star of this movie, the real reason you came to see it, is the titular battleship, the USS Missouri, BB-63, the Mighty Mo’ herself. Here is another sincere, deeply held belief of mine: the Iowa-class battleships are the most beautiful thing mankind has ever created. The four sister ships are the largest and most powerful warships to ever float (that survived the war anyways) and represent the pinnacle of warship design in the final glorious age of that artform. Those babies got curves. Left without other options, our ragtag crew decide to try to bring her back to life and go head to head with the aliens once again.

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And thus kicks off the greatest 10 minutes of cinematic history to the tune of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, itself perhaps the finest accompaniment possible to the seagoing splendor of this film. The crew has a problem: they have no idea how to drive the Mighty Mo’. But no worries! Out of the woodwork come the original crew of the battleship. There is a whole scene where old, proud men with even older and prouder mustaches appear in mankind’s greatest moment of need to take the old but gallant girl out of retirement to face battle one more time.

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I cannot stress enough that I am being 100% honest here, but the whole scene where they bring the ship back to life gives me tingles every time I watch it. It’s so magnificent. The enginerooms on steamships always get me hot and bothered anyways, but watching, even in CGI, an Iowa-class battleship get the fires in her heart lit once more very nearly brings tears to my eyes. And to watch the bow crash through the waves on her way to her sacred duty one last time would be a sight I would do anything to see for real if I could.

Alien Tackle

A brief interlude here to emphasize this movie has everything. I love the battleship most of all but there is a whole storyline that happens on land, and that storyline is badass. On the ship, they needed a five inch cannon to take out one of the aliens. Our double-amputee friend though, he just straight up tackles one of the dudes. He goes toe to toe with a huge armored alien and he doesn’t even have any toes. He’s an Army dude so that’s points against him but still man, respect.

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But back to the battleship. I love the movie Casablanca. Play it Sam, play as “Time Goes By.” We’ll always have Paris. Here’s looking at you kid. Fantastic. But at no point in Casablanca do they powerslide a freakin’ Iowa-class warship and then fire a broadside at an alien spaceship. I mean holy shit. It’s Tokyo Drift but with 57000 long tons. Show me another movie that powerslides an Iowa-class battleship and I’ll show you another movie that has even half a chance at beating this one as the greatest of all time.

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And just look at that broadside in action. I’m only giving you seconds-long chunks of these scenes, and all silent. It goes on for ten minutes or more, just non-stop battleship action. I could run the thesaurus dry and not have the words to convey it to you. You have to watch it.

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Even the old dudes get in on the action! In Marine Week, we were taught to hold a machine gun burst for the amount of time it takes you say “Die Motherfucker Die.” These old dudes 100% ignore that advice and fuckin’ get some when it comes to shooting aliens. The ship is already launching full broadsides of 16″ rounds at these aliens and they’re still firing 50 cal machine guns I think mostly for funsies. Amazing. Fantastic. World-class.

Stupid Jets

The only major mark against the movie though frankly is right at the end. After all this SWOtivating battle action, after our blackshoe friends do all the hard work and kill 90% of the aliens and knock down the force field that was keeping the rest of the Navy at bay, some freakin’ pilots swoop in and act like they actually contributed. Terrible. Pilots. Ugh.

So that’s the movie Battleship. It’s so fantastic. It’s everything you could possibly want in a movie. It’s got romance. It’s got intrigue. It’s got the Navy’s finest warships going head to head with an advanced alien race and kicking their fucking asses by virtue of being total badasses. I love this movie. Please spread my gospel.

Pirate Hunting

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The high seas.

Reading this week:

  • China’s Second Continent by Howard W. French

Back over the weekend before the 4th of July, we went pirate hunting. For the holiday my mom went off on a cruise with some of her sisters, and so my dad, my brother, and I went off to go look at pirate stuff enroute to my grandma’s house for the holiday. Specifically, we were looking at Blackbeard stuff. Eddy Teach there, during his illustrious two-year career had made the Outer Banks island of Ocracoke his favorite anchorage. So, three hundred years later, my brother decided that Ocracoke was the land of his swashbuckling dreams.

Ocracoke is a lovely little island much better known for its beaches and touristy vibe. People drive around in golf carts, lifted trucks, and jeeps. We had a two-wheel drive Jetta. To get there we took a ferry from Hatteras, and I am always a fan of any high-seas adventure. I wasn’t in charge of this trip, and was literally just along for the ride, so I hadn’t done any research into where crap actually was on this island. Neither, apparently, had anyone else on this trip. After a brief consultation of a decorative illustration based on a 300-year-old map and a comparison of said map to Google Maps, we set off down a dirt road that quickly turned to sand that quickly turned to us getting stuck.

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Luckily for us, the beach towing dude happened to be driving by and spotted us in our plight. I mean this is exactly where you’d get stuck if you were dumb enough to get stuck so I assume he just hangs out here all day. He was very nice though and gave us some directions. Personally, I had been pushing to visit the lighthouse first because Google Maps said it closed at 1700 and it was around 1500 by the time we got to the island and got some lunch. Our tow-line enabled friend told us in the midst of rescuing us that Teach’s Hole, which is where Blackbeard liked to anchor, was near the lighthouse and nowhere near our fateful sandtrap. So finally off to the lighthouse we went.

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The lighthouse is pretty nice! The worry about it closing at 1700 was silly because you can’t go into it (I guess you can go into the bottom sometimes), so all you can do is stand nearby and look at it. It proclaims itself at the second oldest still-operating lighthouse in America and well um. Sure. Besides the above picture I took another picture from somewhat closer and both depict a 75′ tall brick tower.

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But finally we set off down a trail in a little miniature state park and we came upon Teach’s Hole! There is of course nothing much to look at because by definition an anchorage is just a stretch of water and stretches of water look much like any other stretch of water. There were people swimming. We did not swim.

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There is also on the site the above boarded-over well. This well was apparently used by Blackbeard. So that’s neat.

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Ocracoke also takes advantage of its pirate history for some good ole-fashioned tourist stuff. One of these things is “Teach’s Hole,” which is mostly a pirate-themed gift shop with a small set of Blackbeard-themed displays. The entry fee for the displays is $4 (free with $15 purchase in the gift shop) and the displays were probably worth about $4. They’re very nicely done but my favorite was a diorama depicting “Blackbeard’s Beach Party” because they used Duplos to put it together. All the rest of the displays are well-done replicas and models and things but then out of nowhere they use kid’s toys to display a party so legendary we’re still talking about it three centuries later.

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After a night on the island we set off the next day on the ferry back to the mainland, landing on Ceder Island and driving on down to Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum and that place is really nice! First off the admission is free and let me tell ya it is worth every penny. We got there only 45 minutes before it closed so we didn’t have a long time to look around, but we got the gist of it.

The museum is most famous for hosting artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge. The QAR, as the museum referred to it, was of course Blackbeard’s ship. They found it a few years back and brought up a bunch of artifacts and stuck them in the Maritime Museum. The QAR section of the museum is the largest section, but they also have a lot of displays on other watercraft from the region, the local marine life, and maritime history. They also have a library that is decorated exactly how I would like a library in my own dream house decorated, so always nice to get some #DesignInspo along with my #nautical.

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Our final pirate-related adventure was a block away to the Old Burying Ground which contained the grave of Captain Burns, an American privateer during the War of 1812. Mostly I wanted to go because it was on Atlas Obscura, but I got to find out his ship was called the “Snapdragon.” This is funny to me because on the submarine we had these exercises called Snapdragon and we hated them (maybe that was just me) so we called them “Snatchdragon” and this dude’s got a whole boat named that. Poor guy.

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And so with that we were off to grandma’s house. Far fewer pirates at grandma’s house.

Rwanda Day 4 & 5: End of the Trip

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Kandt House.

Reading this week:

  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
  • The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis

After milking my COS for literally months of blog posts, my trip is complete!

Leaving Kibuye I got a little adventurous. After waking up early to watch the clouds change color as the sun rose, I wanted to explore some of the peninsulas that jut out into the lake. I was driving around and eventually I went down a road that was just someone’s driveway, and which ended at a gate with no way to turn around. I had to back some ways down a bumpy dirt road where if I went too far I’d fall of a cliff. I’m still alive, but decided to call it after that. The road to Kigali was perhaps the scariest so far for being a little pot-holed and right up against the tallest cliffs I’d seen in Rwanda. The weirdest sight (out of context) was a dude by the side of the road just holding up a catfish he was trying to sell. It looked like the only one he had and there he was standing near a bend holding up a catfish, staring at people driving by.

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On the way to Kigali.

I made it to Kigali in good time and decided to go to the National Art Museum. I had been using maps.me to get around, and it had been pretty good in Rwanda but failed hard in Kigali. The problem is that it contains a lot of “roads” that are more or less impassible dirt tracks, and also it wants to take you on the absolute shortest route. So first it lead me to the wrong side of the airport, trying to get me to cross over behind the airport via a dirt path. I didn’t go down because there was a motorcyle that wouldn’t move, and almost couldn’t make it back because the path was too steep. When I went on the other side of the airport it had me go down this side road and then up this dirt path that was also impassible, and I spent some time turning around again. Then I found another road, and it lead me to another dirt road, which I felt couldn’t be right because the art museum is in a the former Presidential Palace, but it lead me there. There is a tarmac road that leads straight there but I guess it isn’t the absolute shortest path so maps.me didn’t take me that way.

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Back yard of the art museum, because they don’t allow pictures inside.

The art museum was nice. I had the place to myself and was lead around by a rather nice lady. No pictures though which was disappointing, and being lead by a guide made it a little weird to see the museum. You can’t really stand there and contemplate art when she is explaining stuff and leading you around. There was one piece I liked, but maybe it was just the well-carved boobs. The president had some nice digs, but it was built in 1976 and looks like it. We also went to the Presidential Plane Crash Site, which is just out back. This was where the President’s plane crashed, sparking the Rwandan Genocide. There are parts of the plane strewn about, but more interestingly is the 17 or so crested cranes walking around. Apparently they use the place as a crested crane rehabilitation center, and the cranes are beautiful.

I drove to my B&B with relative ease, but driving through Kigali is a bit of a trip. Cars and motorcycles drive on the same roads and the same time, but they’re not really part of the same system. They both tend to both drive without regards to the other and it was my experience that the system worked best when you in fact drove your car more or less without regard to the motorcycles (I mean, don’t hit them). I had the whole next day in Kigali, so I wasn’t so pressed to fill up all my time, but I spent the evening on a walk around the neighborhood.

The next day, the first place I went was the Genocide Memorial. They search your car and give you a patdown before you go in; I wonder what threats they have had. The genocide memorial has a whole museum that is pretty well done. I have a lot of disparate thoughts here. First off the memorial also has a cafe which, I dunno. “We will never forget the horrible things that happened! Never again! Enjoy our cafe and free wifi!” One bit I found weird was a line in the memorial talking about the some of the benefits white people brought to Rwanda, including Christianity. The very next line notes the role in the Catholic church fostering racial/ethnic divides between the Tutsis and the Hutus, both helping to elevate the Tutsis more and then also telling the Hutus they were being oppressed. Again, there ya go. I exited via the Genocide Gift Shop. I bought a lapel pin.

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Leftover from the Natural History Museum.

From there I went to the Kandt House Museum. The weirdest part of the museum was right before I arrived, because just up the road is a garage or something. As I was driving a bunch of guys jumped out and kinda surrounded the car and I was worried I was going the wrong way or something. Turns out they just had a car wash deal. The museum used to the be the natural history museum so around back they have a single, small crocodile and several snakes. Neat. The house itself is pretty nice and contains displays on the history of Rwanda. Some things I learned: Making a single traditional hoe from the ore requires 300kg of charcoal. This means that around 1907, when a bunch of pictures on display were taken, and presumably before that, the country was largely deforested. This was also beneficial to provide pasture for raising cows. The Kings all had like, one of five names, depending on what they needed to do doing their reign. These names were things like “Warrior,” or “Yari,” which means “Peace.” The museum had two wheels that had been used to transport a steam launch (I thought it was named the “Dampfbarkasse” but turns out that just means “Steam Launch” in German). They had a display on traditional courts, and the two punishments mentioned were making beer to provide to everyone, or death. Quite the delta there. The guide also related a story of how apparently the Rwandan people though the whole world was between the three hills of Kigali. Then the Chief climbed Kigali Hill, and saw, like, the rest of Rwanda, and that’s how they found out there was a whole world out there.

From there, off to the Campaign Against Genocide Museum. This is in the parliament building. Again, you gotta get patted down and have your car searched. The displays are interesting (in a “kinda weird”) sense. The museum focuses on the RPF’s actual military campaign against government forces. The museum is where it is because the 3rd Battalion (I assume that is what “3BN” means) of the RPF forces were stationed in the parliament building as part of the Arusha Peace Accords. So when the genocide began there was an RPF force in Kigali already. What clicked at the museum is that like, Kigali itself was a battlefield. They have a war painting of the RPF attacking the sports stadium. That put a new perspective on things. The interesting/weird part though was it was a bit technical. They had a display that they repeated a few times that looks like a powerpoint slide from some military strategy presentation, talking about phases of operation and arrows for things like “media efforts.”

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Gumboots.

The most stunning thing to see was the RPF’s uniforms, which included gumboots as combat boots. That amazed me. I’m not making fun of them for being poor, I am just impressed. I was stunned when all the rangers climbed Virunga in gumboots, and here are these people fighting a war in them. There are apparently some statues and stuff outside, but it was raining so I didn’t bother to look, and I wasn’t feeling great, so I just went back to the B&B. And except for the trip to the airport, that wrapped up my Rwandan vacation and COS trip.

After 24 hours or so of travel and a layover in Qatar, I landed at Dulles airport. Then I stood in the line for customs for 2.5 hours. Frankly if I had known the line for America was that long I might not have come. Me and the customs guy: How are you? I was good two hours ago. Where you coming from? Rwanda. Did you meet anyone there? Nope. Have any business or any friends or relatives? Nope. So you met no one at all? Nope. Why did you choose to go to Rwanda then? Because it is beautiful. What is your profession? Nothing at the moment. What did it used to be? Peace Corps Volunteer. Do you have any food or anything to declare at all? Nope. He let me pass but I don’t think he liked me. And so after 27 months I was back in the US of A. Dad drove me home and I napped.

Rwanda Day 3: Chimpanzees

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Reading this week:

  • American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

The big highlight of this day was chimpanzee tracking. I woke up early early in the morning and met up with the group at the Gisikuru Ranger Station. From there we drove about an hour and a half to an isolated patch of forest where a habituated group of chimpanzees live. The gorillas gave me high expectations for the chimpanzees, despite warnings. We parked our cars at the edge of the forest and set out on foot. The walk was farther than I anticipated, though not actually that far, though the guide kept saying things like “we are close” when our definitions of “close” differed significantly. Eventually we went off the trail, down a slick near-vertical portion of the hill. “Not far!” I was annoyed and the views of the chimpanzees weren’t that good. We kept shifting slightly over the cliff face there to try to get a better view, but it was only faraway glimpses of chimps through trees. Ugh. We eventually went back to the trail and things got better.

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A small group of the chimps (three or four) were walking down the trail and we were basically following them. I got some pictures of chimp butts. Eventually though the chimps climbed a tree to eat some fruit and we scrambled up the hill a short ways and were pretty level with the chimps and got some great photos. One of the dudes on the trek had this huge camera he had a porter carry. It was impressive. We hung out for a while watching the chimps eat and climb around some and then eventually they left and we did too. I was annoyed on the way back because some of the people were super slow and it took forever to get back but we got back.

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From there I set off for Kibuye. The drive is fantastic. Most of it is right along Lake Kivu, hugging the hills that descend into twisty bays all along the coast of the lake. I got to Kibuye and was hungry for lunch. I wound up at Home Saint Jean to get some food. I was trying to find another place but Maps.me lead me there and I was okay with that. It’s this gorgeous castle-looking place perched on a hill that juts out into the bay, maybe 100m up from the lake. I had a rather good lunch and the manager convinced me to get a room because it was only 15000 francs and a pretty nice room with a lake view.

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Continuing my collection of national museums, I darted off to visit the Museum of the Environment. The tour guide showed me around; it is a pretty nice museum though very small. The most interesting thing for me is the Apollo Moon Rock that Reagan gave the country back in 1973. They had a display on energy production and I found out a drill platform looking thing I spotted in the lake from Rubavu is the methane extraction platform so that’s neat. Also that Rwanda produces a good chunk of electricity from peat. The guide told me that the evolution display is kinda contentious in Rwanda, and that he has had trouble convincing people that butterflies come from caterpillars. They have some stuffed animals and I think their star display is of a crocodile found with some shoes undigested in its stomach (the shoes are also displayed). On the roof they have some native plants which were neat to see and then the museum was pretty much over. After that I came back to the hotel and just hung out because frankly I was pretty exhausted from all the traveling. I haven’t been to the Mediterranean but you could have convinced me the view was in the most picturesque chunk of Italy or Greece.

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