Eulogy for my Backpack


He was a friend and trusted accomplice. Together we trekked across striking wilderness. We conquered smelly and unnervingly crowded Ghanian marketplaces. We cuddled together for many nights alone in our tent on the Antarctic Peninusla, shivering and serenaded to sleep by calving glaciers and unforgiving winds. He straightened me out, supported my crooked spine for endless miles and embraced me like no one else could. He would swell with the excessive baggage I asked him to carry as a backcountry novice without complaint. The very first bit of outdoor gear given to me years ago, he has since sparked a commitment to independence and self reliance. He fostered my confidence to walk long distances in any direction.

Over the years, we became worn and ragged. Yet he continued to support me as I gracelessly fell and bellyflopped in bogs, snow and love again and again on continent after continent. Tossed in the back of public transport with all its pointy edges, he ripped and frayed. This last month I sent him off to the factory for repair. Weeks later I was called with the unfortunate news... big red was beyond repair. Osprey unsympathetically cut a history of ties and sent a  new pack in his place.

Now, an alien sits on my bedroom floor emulating the curves and colors of my former friend. He beckons for adventure, eager to be crusted in sea spray and caked in mud. I miss my old backpack. He was a monument and reminder to past lives. One of the only bits of consistency that loyally followed as I trammeled across the globe. But a decade of loving, leaving and letting go has calloused my nostalgic nature- at least on the surface.  I am ready to wear rugged and dirty this new pack but I must first thank my original friend for the memories and loyalty. Thank you for fostering this lifetime of adventure.

Rest in Peace dear friend. You will be missed and never replaced.

Forever yours, Your frayed friend Bethany

On the Road in Southern Africa

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I spent quite a lot of time on sweaty seats surrounded by the smell of biltong on the road in Southern Africa. Biltong is South African dried meat that comes in an assortment of species from cow, ostrich, and kudo to hippo, giraffe and elephant. You can simultaneously chew on a giraffe while watching one gallop across the road- how morbid. We traveled from Joburg to Kruger, back to Johannesburg, then up through Botswana to Chobe National Park, to Victoria Falls, down to the Matobos then back to Joburg- all in just a few weeks. Car naps were interrupted with two 'admissions of guilt' (tickets for speeding and a broken tail light), police questioning where we acquired the firewood strapped to the roof, a demon bug that managed to sneak its way into the car and lots and lots of donkeys and goats that prefer a classic game of 'chicken' to just scuttling off the road. The drives were more pleasantly interrupted by wildlife of all types from herds of elephants down to determined dung beetles. At one point, we rescued a chameleon- my very favorite creature of all- during a road crossing. I picked him up, he assumed the color of my skin,  climbed up my face (squeezing my cheek with his tiny little evolutionarily perfect hand) and perched on my head. We moved him to a nearby tree and I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for the next several hours. Moments like that remind me just how much I adore earth's most peculiar critters.

On game drives we would turn a corner and be smack in the face of a giraffe or elephant or buck. I never expected that such giants were capable of surprising us- hiding amongst shrubs or behind horizon lines. Africa is home to the top three largest land mammals, the fastest and the smallest - elephants, hippos, rhinos, cheetahs and some adorable shrew respectably. There's no forcing the issue when you're stuck behind a herd of elephants with moms and babies and bulls fighting by the roadside- you just sit amongst the herd, wait it out, ensure you are not aggravating any of the elephants and make sure you have an escape route if one charges. Southern Africa is home to my very favorite type of traffic.


While traveling back to Oxford to participate in graduation, Luke and I stopped over in Italy to visit friends.  We stayed with the Barcas in their apartment in Rome. The ancient goliath marble steps that led to the apartment door were deeply eroded and bowed to each of our steps. I only tripped up the stairs once. This place had such a warm feeling to it. The walls were coated with artwork, books and a beautiful mess of mismatched frames displaying endless photos of family from ceiling to floor. In the antique and endlessly interesting antique print store downstairs 'Forza Fabrizio' is posted in the window.

Our traditional roman feast.

The Barcas were incredibly hospitable and presented Luke and I with a culinary experience we certainly will never forget. Luke and I traveled from Rome down to Napoli to visit the ancient city of Pompei. We spent the day waltzing around the ancient roman city, cursing at unreliable public transportation and drinking wine and munching salami next to an ancient roman's hearth. We were exhausted by the time we climbed up those marble steps and slid through the door. We were also excited for this surprise meal that had been planned for days. We sat around the table, libations were poured and the first dish was served with a metal lid on the table. When they lifted the cover a group of sheep heads peered up at me with their beady little roasted eyes. The cheek was tasty, the texture of the tongue was freaky and when the brains were served as a second plate, diagrams from the neuroscience minor I took in undergrad all came flooding back. I silently identified the lobes, picked at the gray matter, looked for the reptilian hind brain and tried my hardest to follow suite and smear the brains on bread and eat them with a smile. I had a little brain, realized how much of a wimp I actually am and watched Luke gulp down a sheep eye. We were also served delicious arancini, a yummy ox dish and some strange Mexican after-dinner drink with a scorpion/rattlesnake or some sort of venomous creepy crawly in it. It was all just delightful!

While in Italy, we watched a burlesque show, a gay South African rendition of Swan Lake, traipsed beside lots of crumbling ruins and ate.. a lot.

Benji took us on a day trop to visit the ancient city of Monterano. Wow I have used the word 'ancient' a whole awful lot during this post but it still feels appropriate.

The ancient city of Monterano.

The ancient city of Monterano.

The aquaducts of Monterano.

 We had dinner in Calcata- a romantic little town not intended for those with a fear of heights. The town limits cascade down a steep mountainside and the views and food are exceedingly delectable.

Calacata, Italy.

Calacata, Italy.

Vatican city was overwhelmingly opulent. Gold foil, castrated roman sculptures and maps celebrating the catholic conquest filled seemingly endless corridors. It was admittedly beautiful at times but after a while my feet just hurt. All of the statues of familiar roman gods did however make me want to disrobe, dive into a marble bath and read Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The Vatican and St. Peters Basillica.

The Pantheon was just a hop skip and a jump from Benji's apartment and Luke and I spent an evening eating gelato against an ancient giant column. It poured rain that night... and on a few other nights as well. The most enjoyable part of the Roman downpours- apart from the romantic aura the wet ruins and slippery cobblestones give off- is that solicitors appear en mass literally out of nowhere within seconds of the first drop to sell you umbrellas. I imagine they crawl out of the city cracks or fall from the sky using umbrellas to brace the fall (see below for an accurate rendition of my imagining).

Umbrella salesmen fall from the sky when it rains in Rome.

Pompei was utterly brilliant and worth every bit of frustration expelled while trying to take public transport there from Rome. We arrived hours late and missed our train home but we still had big grins on our face all evening. I was shocked by the freedom awarded to visitors to explore the ruins. Luke and I stumbled into an ancient crumbled house and drank wine and ate lunch by the hearth. We gazed up at a wall and noticed a beautiful painting of two birds beside the chimney. You can walk right up to an old shop, lean on the colorful mosaic countertop and imagine what you would have ordered there before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. As much as this freedom is treasured by visitors, it sadly also presents ample opportunity for abuse.

Another notable aspect of Pompei I particularly enjoyed was the color! So much of Rome- its ruins, artwork and history are colorless. The unique tragedy of the Vesuvius eruption left behind such a well preserved opportunity to peer into the apparently bright lives of ancient romans. Walls were brilliantly painted, mosaic countertops were splashed with green and blue stones. What a lovely place to explore and pretend you are someone else from some other time.

Ciao Italia- I'm heading back to England to graduate!

New York City

Lynsey, Luke and I flew out of LaGuardia so we could romp around NYC before jet setting back to London. My brother Deryk tagged along for the trip and we had a blast. Despite growing up pretty close to NYC (only a 12 dollar bus ride on Lucky Star ;) ) I have not spent enough time in this city. It's certainly not easy to do on a shoe-string but we found a nice hostel/hotel for a reasonable price (Broadway hotel and hostel booked through hostel The great thing about traveling at this age is our general high tolerance for discomfort. We checked out the High Line, the 911 memorial, took the ferry, ate lots of pizza, walked through the Oceana and African collection in the Met and watched the Sox win the World Series ;)


Deryk has recently taken up photography. He took the above picture of me and my horrendously messy hair on the High Line. It's great having a third photographer in the family so he can teach me what the hell bokeh dots are (see the headlights above). I've never had the patience to study the technical aspects of photography but I do have the patience to hang out with my brother- most of the time.

Anyways, the High Line is lovely, free and provides a refreshing and new perspective of the city whist waltzing above streets, parking lots and food carts. Built on a historic and abandoned rail line, the High Line has been a great success and has brought new business -and biodiversity!- to the Meatpacking District since it opened in 2009. Check out the website and visit in person if you get the chance!

Barcelona To Paris

I traveled to Barcelona this week to present my work with Mission Antarctica at a SCAR [ Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research] Conference. To learn more about the outreach project that brought life and polar research to middle school classrooms in the United States click here


Like many visitors to the brilliant mosaic-clad city of Barcelona, I left saying 'I could live in Barcelona'. The city felt classically beautiful with an avant guarde twist. The artwork and architecture are edgy and the people are too. Tapas is the most ingenious way to eat and I fell in love with Gaudí.

I watched her solicit sex to people passing on Las Ramblas. Some would stop, but most kept shuffling by .

My hotel overlooked the busy street Las Ramblas and I watched people zoom past sex solicitors from the comfort of my window. The city was laughing, dancing, eating and drinking long into the night and I left my giant windows open so Barcelona could slip into my dreams.

Sagrada Familia.