Me and my college buddies are in school in Beppu, Oita and we all desperately needed a break from our busy student lives. Luckily, our college APU (Asia Pacific University) was about to have quarter break. I did some basic research and found out Mount Aso is the biggest volcano in Kyushu and second largest after Mount Fuji in all of Japan. What better way to release some college stress than go on a road trip to look at a smoldering mountain? I had gotten my international license so went and rented a car in Beppu. Me and my buddies hopped in and we began the two hour journey to Kumamoto Prefecture.
Typical of Japan we passed by serene rice paddies and curved up several narrow mountain roads. We eventually landed at some random monument that none of us could read because it was written in ancient kanji. We were sitting on the edge of a mountain so we figured it was a good place to snap some photos.
We took this gem of a photo at that location unfortunately it was a little rainy. Notice the clouds in the background (because we are so high up)
Arriving in Aso Town 阿蘇町
Aso is a tourist town, that gets it’s income off the travelers who come to visit and hike the beautiful volcano. There are many eco-lodges and spa resorts, I was surprised how thriving the town seemed to be. You also can’t help but notice all the Horse meat signs. Aso is renowned for it’s Horse sashimi, thats right raw horse sushi! Personally I’m from Texas and I’m more accustomed to riding horses than eating them. But the locals assure me it’s very tasty…
There are several different craters around Aso san and 7 main peaks. The Volcano is still active and if you know anything about Japan you know Japan is one of the most active earthquake and volcanic zones on earth. All this seismic activity makes for some pretty dramatic landscapes (some of the most beautiful I’ve seen). Aso also has an azalea bloom every may which leads to the volcano being covered with lush purple flowers every Spring.
The center of the crater offers tourist activities like horse back riding (an activity I found odd since Aso town is famous for Horse meat) and a museum that explains the natural phenomena in the local area. I also learned that there are several connected volcanos including the volcano in my city, Tsurumidake and also Mount Yufu in Yufuin. My buddies were in a rush because they had to get to their part time jobs by 5 so we decided to rush up to see the main crater. You can take a shuttle bus and go close to the crater but all you can see is smoke. (no lava viewing unfortunately)
Yummy Horsey… oh this one is for riding 🙂
The way home
On the way back we stopped and got juicy burgers from an American themed biker bar in Aso. The owner was an old Japanese biker guy with a thick ZZ top beard. We looked on the walls and he had pictures with various famous musicians including Micheal Jackson and the Carpenters. The bar had really cool wooden architecture (log cabin みたいな). Me and my American buddy, Micah were pretty happy to get our hands on some proper ground beef burgers and Hero enjoyed it too!
Micah enjoying the tasty burger at Strong Boss Burger in Aso City
We then had to go down some pretty gnarly one lane two way roads. Japanese roads are extremely curvy and narrow. Also I’m not used to driving on the left side of the road so it was a bit tricky. We all got home in one piece and had a wonderful day trip in Aso! I strongly recommend Mount Aso for anyone who appreciates stunning mountain views, hiking and/or Horse meat!
Japanese people call mountains “san” just like people… For example to say Mr. Sato in Japanese you would say Sato san to denote respect. It is a sign of familiarity between well know acquaintances or friends to stop saying “san” after several meetings. But Mountains are pretty important spiritually in Japan so denote respect they sometimes add “san”. So mount Fuji can be called Fuji san（富士山）and Aso can be called Aso san（阿蘇山)
Mountains also tend to be the location of holy sites such as shinto shrines see my earlier post about Mount Tsurumi Dake to learn more!
I had contacted one of my best friends since childhood and asked if I could crash at his place. My friend Jake and I were opposites in a lot of ways his father was a truck driver and he had lived in the same comfortable house in Jersey Village a suburb of Houston his whole life. We had grown up together and we had been to pretty much every one of each other’s birthday parties up until I moved away. I remember playing with squirt guns in his backyard and bouncing on his trampoline. I’m one year older than Jake and we sort of have a brotherly relationship. I would often amuse him with my stories about the world and try to teach him about foreign cultures. He is always particularly interested in Dubai and the Arabian culture. My ability to travel and fly around the world seemed unimaginable to Jake as he had never even been on a plane before. I respect him a lot and I know he will do great things if he sets his mind to it. I often wonder what my life would have been like If I never got the chance to travel to Dubai and leave Houston. I often put myself in Jakes shoes and become immensely grateful for the opportunities my circumstances have afforded me. Much like Jake I had grown up in an upper middle class neighborhood and had a pool in my backyard. Most of the people my family associated with had pretty much the same social standing and culture as WASPS (white Anglo Saxon protestants). Luckily for me my mother had gained a job in at an expat boarding school made up of mostly Asian and Sub-Continental kids along with a few folks from just about everywhere, called the Village school and enrolled me in it. I gained a much more diverse friend group and was able to see and understand divergent perspectives that were far different than mine. The long and the short of it is that I’m glad things worked out the way that they did and after living in Dubai in a culture alien to mine I gained a bravery and lust for adventure that I cannot emphasize enough.
Second Stop Mississippi
After waking up on jakes couch with his cat Maggie sitting on my face I was ready to begin the long drive to my next stop. My plan was to drive East to Mississippi then North up to Indianapolis. My good Friend Ruairi O’Connor whom I had spent freshmen year with in Dubai and then visited him in Singapore, was living with his grandmother in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Ruairi and I had a lot in common we were both gingers and both from the Southern part of the States. We both behaved like cowboys and both had struggled to fit in our new environments. Ruairi is extremely active and never really did well academically in high school. We both lived on the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai and would kayak to each other’s houses after school. I lived in an apartment on the trunk of the Palm and Ruairi lived on Frond C it was about a thirty-minute row. I also accredit Ruairi with getting me into running. He would show up unannounced at my apartment every night with his dog, an adopted desert saluki named Bronte and we would all go for 30 minute runs. I also consider Ruairi a brother except in this case he is the older one.
I figured I would use the mandatory road trip to my advantage and see as many as my friends as possible. It was also a perfect way to see the beauty of America and bid the states goodbye for a while. Another plus was that I could avoid paying for hotels. Ruairi had flunked out of college and was working for a lumber company and waiting on his acceptance to the U.S. Coast Guard. I always pictured Ruairi in the military because of his patriotism and love of all things mechanical. I was happy that he had a plan for his future and wanted to see him before he left for boot camp. I drove through the wet swamps and marshes on the border of Texas and Louisiana. I flicked through the radio stations until I found a good ole’ Cajun station blasting some zydeco. I thought about how random it was to have French speaking cowboys in the middle of a swampy marsh. I also wondered if I was in KKK territory and pondered on what they would think of me and Yuki’s relationship. After driving all day, I had finally gotten to Ocean Springs and parked my grey Mazda in Ruairi’s Grandmother’s driveway. I wasn’t expecting Ocean Springs to be as pretty it was, the old oak trees hung on every street with their mossy leaves. I also dug the Cajun feel and the French look of the architecture. Ruairi showed me his sail boat that he had purchased and we both joked and chatted about the progress of our lives. We then hopped in Ruairi’s pick-up truck and headed to a sketchy Mexican restaurant. I used Ruairi’s I.D. because we look so similar and joined him in having a couple margaritas. We then went back to his grandma’s trailer and played some Call of Duty. Ruairi’s family are staunch Catholics and his uncle is a priest at a beautiful church in Biloxi. The next morning happened to be Sunday so we drove through Ocean Springs over the causeway that had been devastated several years ago by hurricane Katrina. We ended up listening to a nice sermon about Mother’s Day. I savored the sermon and church experience knowing that I probably wouldn’t go to Church again for a while in Dubai or Japan. Later that afternoon Ruairi and I went to the Biloxi beach and soaked up some rays.
Alabama, Tennessee and Pennsyltucky
I rolled of the couch at six o’clock bid Ruairi farewell and wished him the best of luck in the Coast Guard. I drove hard that day and listened to some Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. I also learned that Hank Williams was from Alabama. During the summer there was a viral video of a boy yodeling a Hank Williams song in a Walmart, so I thought that was a funny coincidence. As I drove North through Birmingham, I thought of Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. I recalled how Dr. King had eloquently dismantled the Vatican’s stance on Civil Rights in the U.S. He outlined how it was ironic that the Christianity had started as the religion of the oppressed and how it had become a tool of oppression (in the case of civil rights). He compared the plight of African Americans to the plight of early Christians in Rome. I also turned on my radio and heard a Black reverend talking about an incident that had happened at a church he was familiar with in Birmingham. Apparently, a predominantly African American church had put up a sign saying that white people were not welcome in the congregation. I believe that the church had decided to do this after a series of instances of police brutality. The reverend was talking about how Dr. King would have been ashamed at the sign and that the community in Birmingham was taking steps backward, according to the Reverend “we are all God’s children” and that segregation is a worldly concept. I agreed with the Reverend and thought about how in Heaven there would be no divisions. It’s truly amazing how much you can learn about a city or state by listening to the local radio. That night after nine hours of driving I had finally hit Tennessee and crashed at some random Holiday Inn.
Once I had finally arrived with my uncle Phil in Indiana I was happy to stay in his comfortable apartment for a bit. My uncle having a master’s in History from St. Andrews in Scotland he also happens to have a near photographic memory, so he loves teaching me about things and I love listening. He told me about how the Air Force headquarters in Dayton, Ohio only a two-hour drive from Indianapolis. We hopped in his car and headed over the state border. I also learned that the Wright Brothers were born in Indiana so there are many aviation themed restaurants and shops around the border with Ohio. Luckily for use it also happened to be Veteran’s Day so the National Air Force Museum was having a special event. People were dressed up as soldiers and were recreating a WWII military camp. People were displaying military jeeps, rifles, uniforms, and radio equipment. My uncle and I are military nerds so we were both thoroughly impressed by all this. The museum itself is split into several sections between massive aircraft hangers including WWI, WWII, Cold War, and the Space Age. One particularly interesting exhibit is the Boxcar which is the plane that dropped the “Fat Man” nuke on Nagasaki. I remarked to my uncle that it would be interesting seeing the plane and then visiting the peace memorial in Nagasaki itself. My uncle and me then split up because he moves very, very slowly through museums. It was a very interesting and American experience that I am very fond of considering that I am strongly considering joining a branch of the military as my post graduate possibility’s.
My uncle and I The Boxcar Rest Stop in Kentucky
Indianapolis The Wright Brothers Birthplace
Wilkes Barre Penn
After we returned to Indianapolis my father contacted me telling me about how my grandmother had become gravely ill and that he was returning to Pennsylvania from Dubai to visit her. He asked me to come along as well and visit her. My grandmother on my father’s side had had a history of mental illness and I had heard stories about her from my father’s siblings. At young age my parents made the executive decision to keep me away from her. My father describes her as a manic depressive with bipolar tendencies. She had indeed been hospitalized against her will at a psychological institution. I was somewhat frightened to see her and of what she might say to me. I felt a little guilty about never seeing her as much as my grandparents on my mom’s side. My dad told me it meant a lot to him that I come so I bought a plane ticket and flew to meet him from Indianapolis to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
After I got off the plane my father and I headed over to Wilkes Barre General Hospital to visit my grandma Gretchen. When we walked into the room she lit up in excitement and seemed overjoyed to see us. I smiled and hugged her she couldn’t really speak properly because she was on a lot of pain medication. She asked me “Why I had shave my beautiful red hair?” I replied by explaining to her I was going bald. Me and my father grabbed her hand and sat with her a bit. I told her that my dad turned out to be a great man and a fun father and that she should be proud of him. She seemed really happy and I was glad that I was able to see her. My uncle Bill had also drove up from Ohio to see my grandmother and visit with me. She didn’t seem so sick to us and my dad had faith that she would recover. My dad said that his mother had been healthy her whole life and didn’t think that this was her time to go. After the visit my father took the opportunity to show me where he went to elementary school and his childhood school.
My uncle Bill is also an avid hiker and naturalist and he wanted to take us out to one of his favorite hiking spots. Wilkes Barre has an abundance of natural beauty me and my father even saw a black bear while driving on the highway. The next day my uncle Bill took us to a beautiful hiking spot called Ricketts Glen. My grandfather Joe who passed five years prior used to take them there as kids. I could tell that being back in Pennsylvania and being with his brother Bill stirred many memories within my father. As we hiked up several waterfalls Bill educated me about the various flora and fauna in the region. The whole trip seemed surreal to me and the fact that I had ended up in Pennsylvania visiting my estranged grandmother was crazy to me. It was a mere fifteen days earlier that I was telling Yuki goodbye at the Austin Airport. I certainly hadn’t expected for my dad to come all the way back from Dubai and give me a tour of his childhood home.
The next day my dad visited my grandmother again for several hours. We said goodbye and he told me he would see me again soon in Dubai. The very next week my grandmother passed from her illness, so it turns out that the trip was worthwhile, and I am thankful to have the memory and to have said goodbye.
Finally, after two jam packed months in America I made it to my parents’ house in Dubai. But as soon as I arrived my parents decided they needed to get out Dubai which can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius in the summer. In my opinion Dubai is literally synonymous with hot as hell in the summer. The air is thick with moisture, sand and who knows what else which makes me feel like I can’t breathe in the sweltering heat. So, I was pretty much on board for going anywhere else to kill some time before my internship started at Emirates Airlines. My mom has family in England who needed us to house sit so we took over their house for a bit. We saw my British family whom I hadn’t seen in ages. A Lot of my family members are veterans of the British military and have very interesting antiques in there house. My uncle Roger is a very posh and lovely old man. His wife is named Ingrid and they met while he was stationed in Dusseldorf Germany. Ingrid is famous for making us tea and cakes everytime we visit, her motto is “you vill eat it and you vill like it!”. She consistently reminded us that life is too short not to eat cake. My family from Luton also came up to visit us. My cousin Steven happens to be a champion clay shooter so he took me and my dad out to shoot some clays. We had a fantastic time and also toured around much of Thetford and Norwich. I was surprised by how quickly people rush past us on tiny narrow roads. I’ll go into specifics on the sights that we visited in future posts.
Dubai & Emirates Airlines
I can’t really go into too much detail about this, as I had to sign non disclosure agreement but I will say what I can! I was working at the Dubai international airport at the Emirates security offices there. I had managed to score this internship thanks to some lucky nepotism and my interest in international security/relations. As I went in I was assigned to Maya a Lebanese woman who would oversee my tasks at the internship. I was given a lovely seat with a window view of the Dubai international airport runway. I also got to see several of the security systems that are in place to ensure the safe transport of valuables and prevent any dangerous goods from entering the country. My task included finding suitable speakers, venues and topics for an aviation security symposium called AVSEC. I had to compile a list of speakers who had undergone security situations. One of my most interesting finds was an Ethiopian Pilot who had been hijacked 3 times and hit in the head with an axe but survived the crash landing. I also contacted several cyber security experts. The internship was good fun and lasted about a month. I was the only American there so people were quite interested in me. I had several lovely conversations and interactions with people I can’t say the names of due to security. I was also given food vouchers for the Indian curry restaurant downstairs. I had butter chicken curry and mutton roganjosh almost everyday and boy was it good. My days would consist of waking up at 5 a.m. driving to the airport then going home and working out with my friend Trishul. Trushil was the only other person I had met close to my age and was the Nepalese gym attendant at my parents apartment. Most people get out of Dubai in the summer if they can and all of my friends I went to High School with are at universities in the U.S. We ended up having long conversations everyday after the internship and he taught me new workouts. The internship was good because it gave me some work experience and helped me pass the time in extreme dusty heat of the Dubai summer.
lunch break at Emirates airlines
my lunch break and Emirates and me hanging out in the Dubai desert with Trishul Oman
We went to Oman for a week after I finished the internship I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…
Hiking in Wadi Shab
4 Countries and 10 states later…
Please feel free to follow me on instagram @ redheadkid for more cool pictures of travels around the world. As always thanks for reading my story!