Trekking in Ethiopia

Thank you Laurie. After a day in Addis Ababa we flew north to Mekele in the Tigrai region which borders Eritrea. After a night in Mekele we drove a couple of hours in a minivan with our tour operator, Solomon Seyoum, to Idega Arbi. The countryside was rolling with some small valleys. We saw some agriculture and animals but it didn’t seem to heavily used semi desert. The road was not too with detours around former mud pits and much bottoming out. We arrived a small desert outpost with a tiny store and a large dirt plaza. Ariga Arbi is a weekly market town, we later learned means “Friday Market.” Our three donkeys with split barrel saddles were awaiting us. Our donkeys and loads were tended by two men from the village near where we would be staying that night. They would stay in their village with their donkeys and returning the next mornilng to go half way with us and turn us over to next two donkey wranglers and their three donkeys. And most important to our survival was our bubbly guide Berhan. Solomon and her made arrangements talked about payments. Solomon also entrusted Louisa with the tips for the donkey wranglers and guest house operators. Solomon was going on to a town near our put out point, Adigat. He would be busy on the phone and computer making arrangements for future tours. There aren’t a lot of tourist resources and so the operator has to stay on top of reservations for food lodging, treks, local guides, etc. If you haven’t noticed this will be a series of digressions. Tesfa Trekking ( was started in about 2011 by Mark Chapman and Berhan has been with them since the early months. She is the only femaie guide in this region. She was our guide because Laurie thinks she is the best guide. (You’re asking who is Laurie, well you should). As I’m am writing this on the second morning we all agree with Laurie. But back to our starting point Idega Arbi. A dusty plaza with a few dozen buildings surrounding. But most spectacularly we are entering a series of valleys below a mesa, much like the Four Corners of the United States. Red and white sandstone cliffs one to two thousand feet above the valley floors. Idega Arbi is at the confluence of many valleys and subvalleys. We will be going up several of the valleys, going part way up to churches and ending up on top of the mesa (plateau). Siheta. After good-byes between us, Berhan and Solomon; filling of water bottles, we start off down a local wide path. We only see one motor vehicle the rest of the day, a small motorcycle. My first impression is of a semi-desert, but come to realize that people are everywhere, some coming and going, some in the fields cutting crops. It’s harvest season, the crops are millet, tef, barley and wheat with some corn, beans, hops. Also lots of cactus, the fruit of which is eaten. In hard times the “leaves” are cut up and feed to the animals. Other desert plants—agave, euphorpia, aloe—are common. As we progress along the path and we soon learn that a “Salome” is all that needed to being a smile and responding salome. And requently a handshake. Almost everyone is very friendly. The kids are like kids everywhere—some shy, some very friendly and wanting to try out there “how are you, I’m find”s and some wanting to converse and learn about where we’re from. We pass a school that’s just ending up recess and Berhan shows us into a classroom. Very spartan—no obvious notebooks or paper, the walls covered with simple lessons in English and Amharic. Pictures with matching English. Other English is relation words—mother, father, etc ending in short sentences, e.g., the mother of my father is my grandmother. After a couple of minutes I decide to take over the classroom and lead the students through repetions of that page. They do fine with the short phrases, more work would be required for longer phrases. Afterwards the teacher said he wished he had a library—we didn’t find out what he meant—did he want primer type books or a real selection of various age appropriate books. We would like to follow up on his request. Birham related that the local public teachers weren’t that good and those in the cities that could afford it sent their children to private schools. It’s easy to believe she is right as many words were mispelled on the lessons on the walls. We kept meeting people coming back from a celebration of life of a 90 year old who had died a year ago. We came to find out we were going to the celebraton. We bought a bottle of a local cream de menthe as an offering. Birham is from this area and knew the family. She has also been guiding in the larger area and has met and knows many of the people. Anyway the celebration was held in a temporarily covered area that would hold maybe 100 people around small tables. We were seated at one of the tables. We were first offered local millet beer. Then a communal table with a dish covered with injera which had a raised platter with mashed garbonzas with a dollop of seasoned sauce in the middle. Then a young lady came with a dish piled with barley flour dough which she made ¾” balls which she placed on the injera under the raised platter. We were then given skewer to stab the barley balls and dip in the mashed garbonza and sauce to eat. After a few rounds we got into offering the dipped balls to each other. It’s common in Ethiopia to feed the other people in this way. The millet beer helped make for a fun activity. Various family members would come by and get into the mutual feeding. One of the six sons of the deceased stopped by a number of times and talked with us. Others came by also and joined in. We were there about an hour but the celebration goes on all day. Starts with a mass and then people drop by when they can for conversation and eating. I don’t think any of us thought the barley paste balls too exciting, but the garbonza and sauce are good.

You’re still wondering who Laurie is. Louisa and Greg met Laurie Scott and his wife Louise in Lee Vinilng at at campground. They were on a year long tour of the US and we were skiing at Tioga Pass. They then stayed with us in Redondo Beach when they passed through. Several years later Laurie was promoting his friend, Solomon Seyoum, from Ethiopia who was starting Anini Tours. Laurie is a geologist or mining engineer who had met Solomon when he worked in Ethiopia. Several years after that Rich Henke picked up the ball and worked with Laurie and Solomon to put together this trip. Thank you Rich and Laurie. Mark Chapman deserves thanks too for founding for founding Tesfa Treks. Mark organized the building of community run guest houses in the Tigrai region. He also organized Tesfa treks which provides the guides and arrangements with the guest houses. The guesthouses are generally on the edges of the mesa with amazing views, but usually a bit remote from the local housing. He arranged the training of the managers and cooking and maintenance crews of the guest houses. He wanted to help the economy of the region.

We were all surprised how beautiful the region is, how friendly the people are, and how interesting viewing the rural life is. We are here in harvest season so lots of activity—cutting the grain by hand, stacking the grain, threshing with cattle and then tossing the straw so it blows away to separate the grain. To me that is more interesting than the main tourist attraction in Tigrai, the churches carved in the rock cliffs. Some are fairly simple but others have the walls painted with murals. Christianity came to Ethiopia before Rome. Some of these churches date back to about the 5th century and have operated since.

Photos have been posted to Smugmug .

Historic Street Names in Los Angeles

Getting close to deploying covering in map and text the changes in streets and street names in Los Angeles. This is a side project related to Croatian Run Restaurants in Los Angeles that I thought I could knock out in a month or two. Surprise: closer to a year. But an interesting learning experience. I had to learn way more JavaScript that I wanted to. And the project expanded. Even took a class at El Camino Community College.

Black Canyon Trail—Thanksgiving Weekend 2018

We had a great weekend biking the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona. What made it especially nice was that the six of us pretty much stuck together evne though our abilities varied. Also nice was that over the four nights and four days we stayed in only two campsites. The first because we arrived Wednesday evening and the next day did an out an back and stayed in the same site. The third night we stayed as planned at Bumble Bee Ranch which provided hot showers, good shade and a pleasant environment. After scouting the planned fourth night possibilities we decided the 20 or 30 minute drive back to Bumble Bee Ranch was less time consuming than breaking camp and the possibilities for camping at the next trailhead were limited.

The night we arrived we had dinner at the Arcosante cafeteria. A good meal at an interesting place. Thanksgiving night we enjoyed Louisa’s turkey tetrazzini. The following nights we had food prepared by Rich and Steve.

Louisa has posted a video slide show of our adventures on Vimeo. The slides make it look like an easy ride. Although it’s not a double-diamond technical ride, the loose rock makes for tough climbing and the warmer than usual weather didn’t help either. But no rain and sunny weather is nice too.

We await Shadowman Mike’s GoPro video and Steve’s compilation of photos from the trip. Maybe they’ll show more of the challenges. And Rich will likely post photos on SmugMug.

The first day out and back north from the Big Bug trailhead was disappointing. Rolling over the desert, but a not well used or maintained section which meant we got shredded by cat’s claw, palo verdes and other thorny plants. Protection is in order for this section. The following three days were much better. More terrain variety as far as scenery and biking interest. And well maintained, so although we got some scratches, nothing like the first day.

Small tidbit: at the end we all stayed with family cousins—three of them.

Thank you Louisa for organizing this and to everyone else for a successful adventure. I hope to add to this post with more details, but Rich will likely have a good write up and REI’s MTB Project has good info on this IMBA Epic ride.

Horton River Canoe Trip

From July 29 to August 20 we were kayaking on the Horton River in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The trip was lead by Rich Henke and Brian Elliott who did an incredible amount of planning and logistics to make this trip happen. The congenial group of six also included Pete Ackerman and Steven Cochran. This was a trip of a lifetime. Once we left Norman Wells (pop. 800) in a Sea Otter float plan and were dropped off we didn’t see anyone else. In fact about the only signs of humans we saw were a couple of footprints. Many caribou, some grizzlies, and lots of birds. Brian is a birder and was great about sharing his knowledge and pointing out birds and other animals we would have never seen.

We took lots of pictures and video footage, but so far we haven’t organized them. But other participants have and you can see their great photos at Rich’s Smugmug page, Brian’s Flickr page, and Pete’s new Smugmug page — make sure you can see the captions in his Best of… as his observations are quite interesting and informative. The journal he kept paid off. One of Pete’s photos also graced our Christmas card this year.

The Horton Rivers terminates in Franklin Bay, which is connected to the Beaufort Sea which connects to the Arctic Ocean, almost 70° north after traveling almost 400 miles. Some of the trip we were above timberline even though our elevation was about 500 ft. This is tundra country which is more interesting than one would expect. Fun to walk on if you’re not trying to get somewhere because it’s soft although sometimes wet, and the tundra is comprised of many varieties of plants.

All for now. Four months later: Pete had just posted his photos and in looking at them I’m reminded how extraordinary this trip was.

Other Horton River trip reports that helped us plan our trip:

Horton Canoe Trip Report – Jul 10, 2004 – Eston and Jackie
Jul 2, 2012 – Manrico and Liz 21 days, 20 nights on the river. Excellent trip report Includes 9 minute movie and 157 image slide show.
Traditional Arctic Kayaks—Jim Rutzick, HORTON RIVER, JULY, 1997
Horton River to Paulatuk 2007 — Freda Mellenthin

Croatian Restaurants in Los Angeles Project

Something that’s been the works for a while. But thought it time to introduce it, although nothing is ready to published. So this posting is as much for me to document the program before I forgot too many details of the journey. And it’s been fun.

Probably can say it started with our trip to Croatia in 2013 to Croatia with Gary and Mary. We decided to spend one day on the island of Bra? to see if we could find any remnants of Scarich relatives. That was documented in an earlier post and Louisa’s short video. We met three third cousins, Mila, Mirjam and Ana. Ana was the genealogist and was interested in where her great-grandfather living and worked in Los Angeles (LA). I did some research at the Los Angeles Public Library in their genealogy section and on Mainly LA city directories, but also draft cards which yielded a dozen or so addresses. Louisa and I spent a fun day visiting the sites, taking pictures and talking to a couple of local residents (and getting yelled at by some telling us we couldn’t take photos). We found many houses where Scarich relatives had lived in the Boyle Heights area of LA and nearby. All of the restaurant sites are in downtown LA and have been replaced by high rises or parking lots.

That resulted in a email exchanges with Ana and digging out of family photos which resulted in one photo of Nicholas Tade Scarich in front of a house which was clearly at 3730 Hammel Avenue.

In the spring of 2015, the Los Angeles Public Library had an exhibit entitled “To Live and Dine in LA.” (Don’t know if the link will die when exhibit ends.) The exhibit was a joint effort between the library and the Los Angeles Library Foundation. (Need to confirm the details of the support). The links led to an essay by Charles Perry, Food Historian and President, Culinary Historians of Southern California who contributed to the exhibit. I contacted Perry and he generously sent an article he had drafted on Croatian Restaurants in LA with the suggestion that the effort needed to be developed. Well, I thought that this might be fun. Expand beyond the Scarich connection and learn a bit more LA history. I envisioned the effort as being presented somehow on a map. About the same time, because I follow the blogs about urban life and transportation in LA and elsewhere, I saw a posting by Omar Ureta about a map he had developed showing when all the buildings in LA county were built. Ah ya, the map showed me the possibilities. I contacted Ureta via MaptimeLA, a group dedicated to helping people learn how to use maps to help Angelenos. Another breakthrough, maybe I could learn how to do what I wanted. I’ve attended three meeting so far getting overwhelmed with the many mapping software options, but even more importantly meeting a bunch of dedicated, interesting, mostly young people. I hope to contribute to their efforts. I’ve been experimenting with those software and am now also taking a class at Santa Monica City College on GIS, specifically learning ArcGIS. Coincidentally MaptimeLA is working on a project on old restaurants that still are open in LA using a list in an article by Nikki Kreuzer.

As I said at the start, no progress to show. Sign off for now. I expect to edit this posting as there are several details to confirm or links to be added. I may also add a post on the software journey.

Photographs from Ishkashim, Afghanistan and Tajikistan


Two towns named Ishkashim stand opposite each other on the Pyanj River, which marks the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Against a stark backdrop of daunting peaks and dusty plains, life here, as documented in this photo essay by Diana Markosian, is marked by constant uncertainty.

Škaric / Scarich in Croatia and the United States

The Scarichs are from Brač. The first of our line of Scarichs to come to California was Vincent Gregory Scarich. Not many of us have visited family in Croatia. My (Greg’s) aunt and uncle, Rita and Gerry, visited probably in the late 70s. And Uncle Nick, one of Vincent’s sons visited from time to time. But no one I talked to knew who or where they visited. I was always told I was named after my great-grandfather Vincent Gregory Scarich from the island of Brač. However I’ve never seen anything in writing that confirms that his name was Vincent Gregory. His Certificate of Naturalization from 1905 has Visko Skarich (no accents). Škarić is Scarich in Croatian, so Skarich is yet another spelling.

Visko Skarich Naturalization

Before we went on our trip to Croatia we thought we’d try to visit some Scarichs if we could find any. My dad had some contact about 40 years ago, but never visited any relatives in Croatia. His uncle, Nick, had visited Croatia but neither my dad nor I could find any information on that. I tried one of my cousins since their parents had visited relatives in Croatia, but they didn’t have any information. I Googled and although I found plenty of Škarićs not much contact information or current information. The major of Split in 2000 was a Škarić and Split is the main port to catch the ferry to Brač. I also tried Facebook and found some Škarićs but not in Split or Brač. Nonetheless I contacted one, but never heard from her and real ized that I wasn’t likely to find any of the mostly thirty somethings on Facebook that would be interested in meeting us.

But in family papers I found that some distant cousins (Restovich) were buried in Postira, a town on the island of Brač. I also looked on a couple of genealogy sites but didn’t turn up anything. So we left on our trip with a plan to poke around the graveyard in Postira.

On our first full day in Croatia we were visiting a farmers market in Zagreb. Louisa saw some honey from Brač at a stand and the woman selling the honey said that there were lots of Škarićs on Brač. So we might find some, but I assumed that would be older non-English speaking and we wouldn’t learn much.

Ten days later in Split we decided to reconnoiter the ferry to Brač the day before we were to go. I went to the ticket office and Louisa started talking with a person in line for the ferry that afternoon. He was a Škarić. Skaric at Split Ferry

The next day we caught the 9 am ferry and upon arrival drove to Postira and went for lunch. In talking to the waitress she related that although she wasn’t from Brač she knew there were Škarićs and suggested going about half a kilometer down the shore to a grocery store and ask about the Škarićs neighborhood that was nearby. A whole neighborhood! This is getting interesting. I suggested the village priest and we all agreed that was even a better place to start. She pointed out the steeple and after lunch we wandered up the hill to the church. No one in the church, but we saw a house that looked like it might be the rectory and called into the open front door. The priest came out and although he spoke very little English he got the gist of what we were after and brought out a big ledger book. I had a birthdate of 1859 and Vincent Gregory/Visko for a name. He started thumbing through the book and ran into about ten pages of Škarićs. The book appeared to have been recompiled about 50 years ago with more recent additions (the book was organized and all the old entries had been put in at the same time (we later learned that many of the church records were copied over when the communists took over and the originals hidden away). The priest finally homed in on one page and although the birthdate differed by a year from what I had, and the first name was Vicko not Visko, but seemed like a reasonable variant. No middle name either. He then got kind of a knowing look and he went to make a call. He said two o’clock and I talked to Mila, my (third) cousin would said she would come by in an hour. During the hour Father Ton?i Jelin?i? brought us some homemade wine to drink.

An hour later not one but two cousins showed up and soon their cousin soon showed up. They were all females in their mid-fifties and spoke fluent English. We talked for a while and Mila invited us to her house for happy hour. It turns out their cousin, Ana, is the family genealogist and had a partial copy of the family tree. Up until then we weren’t convinced that we had nailed down the relationship, but her tree had Vinko Juraj, a brother of their great-grandfather. And eventually I remembered when I was about seven I met a relative from Bolivia, Sonja. They had met Sonja and her son, Vincent, who visits Brač every couple of years. With all these connections we agreed we must be cousins.

Photo of Greg and cousins
Greg, Mila, Mirjam and Ana

Mirjam, my other third cousin, met and married an American in college in Zagreb, and has lived in New York ever since. Her daughter, Anya, was there also and in fact visits every summer (except for two years during the war).

The next day, Mila took us for a tour of our neighborhood, called Škarića Dvori. Dvori we took to mean neighborhood of the Škarićs. She pointed out numerous building, several plaques celebrating famous Škarićs. We met one older couple. He is a Škarić but spoke no English.

Obviously we learned a lot more about the family than I’ve written about here. The cousins are all generous and interesting. We had a great time and will stay in contact.

We’ve posted photographs from the whole trip to Croatia on our to our website here.