Three Days in Mt. Athos ⛰️

Athos is a skinny finger of land that protrudes 40 kilometers into the Ionian Sea. A spine of mountains runs the length of the peninsula and terminates in the holy mountain itself, Mt Athos. The rugged, densely forested landscape is surrounded by the choppy waters of the Ionian Sea. Clinging to the sides of cliffs and nestled in hidden valleys are many important Christian religious sites. A tangled network of footpaths connect monasteries, shrines, and orchards of fruit-bearing trees where monks grow olives, cherries, apricots, and other foods required for a simple monastic life. These footpaths, often poorly mapped, are traversed by pilgrims, monks, and wild animals. Things have changed little since the time of the Byzantine Empire.

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Hitchhiking Kurdistan 🚗

In 2016 I hitchhiked from Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan to the ancient town of Hasankeyf in Turkey (map). Hasankeyf now rests on the bottom of a lake - submerged in 2020 after the completion of the Ilısu dam. When I first jotted down the notes that would become this story I never imagined that the ancient valley full of austere minarets, Turkman bridges, crumbling caravanserai’s, and stone houses stacked one on top of another would be wiped from the face of the earth.

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A Forbidden Journey 🌙

In 1853 Richard Burton, a British orientalist and explorer, disguised himself as a Persian merchant and visited the Islamic holy city of Mecca. For Burton, the stakes were high: not only was the journey itself extremely dangerous (his caravan was attacked by bandits) but the punishment for non-Muslims entering the holy city was death.

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Zones of Alienation ☢️

This is about places I’ve experienced that have returned to nature. These places are sometimes called “involuntary parks” to distinguish them from intentional parks like Yosemite, Canyonlands, or Death Valley. Just like national parks, involuntary parks have their own special kind of beauty - a beauty that doesn’t stand alone like a mesa or a sunset, but a beauty that only exists in contrast to something else. That something else is civilization, and by shining light onto one you cast a shadow onto the other, which is why involuntary parks are so interesting: when you’re exploring an abandoned place you’re also exploring every place that isn’t abandoned.

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Poisonous Plants of San Francisco ☠️

I walked around San Francisco collecting all the poisonous plants that grow in the city. On almost every block you can find a plant that will injure or kill you if consumed a certain way.

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Climbing the Great Pyramid of Giza 🧗

In 2014, I visited Egypt in order to climb the Great Pyramid of Giza. Ascending pyramids isn’t without precendent: in Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain recounts how one of his guides was able to sprint to the top of the Pyramid of Khafre, descend it, jog a quarter mile to the Pyramid of Cheops and climb up and down that one in only eight minutes and forty-one seconds. My climb took significantly longer and I only climbed half as many pyramids, but I was successful nonetheless. In this blog post I’m going to tell you the story of my ascent and give you some tips for the next pyramid you climb.

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