Some travels: Colorado, Kansas and Overkill

After mentioning that I was travelling with my parents, I think I should point out the highlights of our trip. We flew west to spend some time in Colorado. We ended up seeing a lot of Colorado and some of Kansas as well.

We spent two days driving in the Rockies, with my personal highlight being the Independence Pass. It’s not all THAT high for the Rockies at 12 095 feet, but it was incredibly impressive and bleak nonetheless. (See below.) I also really enjoyed seeing Aspen, which was surprisingly gorgeous: it was really green and pretty. At the same time, though, it was clearly a playground for the wealthy. Not every small town in the Rockies can claim quite the same number of designer stores as Aspen, that much is certain.

From the Independence Pass:
Landscape

After Aspen, the next highlights were the Kebler Pass, which lies very close to Crested Butte, followed by the Monarch Pass. The western slopes of the Kebler Pass were spectacular. The vegetation and the landscape had me entranced. The pass was much lower, but the highlands leading up to the pass were something to behold.

En Route to the Kebler Pass:
Mountain Landscape

From the Monarch Pass:
Photographer in Action

After the Rockies, we descended to Colorado Springs, where we saw the Garden of the Gods. Again, I would suggest seeing the amazing sandstone formations if you can. The snow on Pike’s Peak in the background provides a wonderful contrast to the reds and whites of the rock formations. From Colorado Springs, we wended our way generally eastward across the plains as far as western Kansas. Some of the country south east of Colorado Springs was desolate and broken, but the real farming areas in eastern Colorado and western Kansas amazed both me and my parents. After seeing that small sliver of the plains, I get some idea of how much food is grown on the plains. It was literally unbelievable: there were simply miles upon miles of cultivated lands filled with good-looking crops.

It’s hard to capture the flatness and the expanse on camera, but here is my best attempt at doing just that:
Wheat on the Plains

Last, but not least, my parents and I ventured into some outdoor megastores near Denver. After seeing entire walls covered with rifles, cabinets upon cabinets filled with binoculars and spotting equipment, multilayered racks of fishing rods and almost every other kind of outdoor equipment you can imagine under one roof, I was at a loss for words. I don’t know how best to sum up the experience, but the words of one store assistant are probably better than anything I could string together: in his words, the stores are “candy stores for big boys”. I would go further and say the stores are wondrous places for most people, even if that wonder isn’t necessarily that of a child in a “candy store”. Needless to say, all three of us were absolutely exhausted by the experience.

The next time you have a few hours to spare, visit an outdoor megastore. (We went to Gander Mountain, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Outdoor World, and any of the three would be worth a visit.)

P.S. I am working on my photography and will actually be posting more of my photos to my Flickr account after I get back from South Africa. I hope you enjoy what I have, though.

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Perspective

I’ve been traveling with my parents since they arrived in the US on the 21st of May, and being with them has been very interesting. They have never been to the US, so it’s been very good for my sense of perspective to hear their take on what they’ve seen. After four years here, I’ve become jaded towards some aspects of society in the US, and my parents have reminded me of the differences between home and the US. Furthermore, I closely watched their interactions with my (American) girlfriend, though there were also other motivations for that: they had never met each other…

Beyond the personal aspects of perspective, there were still some marked differences between the ways all four of us perceive and interact with the world around us. I would love to elaborate on some of the conversations that revealed these differences, but I am not going to go that far – the conversations weren’t meant to be public. Still, I think I gleaned a lot from them that isn’t specific to my parents and girlfriend.

One of the things that has struck me throughout my time in the US is the amount of waste that is produced here, as well as some of the unnecessary consumption that drives the production of that waste. My parents came to Amherst for one of the worst weekends of the year for waste: when all the graduates leave college, they discard all manner of items that they’ve accumulated over four years, including large and expensive items like sofas and televisions. Beyond that, each student throws away all sorts of knick-knacks, papers and such-like in leaving his or her room. The amount of rubbish produced is quite mind-boggling, especially to people like my parents, who are used to items being specifically handed on to new owners. They were also shocked to see how much waste is produced through the use of disposable cutlery, plates and the like for many kinds of catering. Just about everything is thrown away. And what is worse, much of the food itself is also discarded. At a number of restaurants, portions are really large. At home, we are used to eating whatever is put in front of us. In the US, though, the level of wealth and waste makes it possible for many people to discard whatever they don’t feel like at the time: they have funds available for a later purchase of food. The result – lots of discarded food. As per the college example, this situation extends to all sorts of possessions. It marks one of many differences between home and the US. I think going home again will be good for my perspective, because I will again be with an outsider seeing things at home from a different perspective to my own. It won’t be the first time that’s happened, but it is always good to reconsider how one looks at the world.

P.S. I am aware that I haven’t seen poverty in the US, such as it is. My time in the US has not involved seeing the hard side of American life: I don’t deny it’s existence, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent or as intense, I would argue, as the poverty at home.

P.P.S. My parents left the US today, but I think I will be thinking about their impressions of the US, and my reactions to their impressions, for quite some time to come.

An Abrupt End

So that “college” thing is finished: I graduated last weekend (the 27th of May) and walked away with a diploma, a shiny new cane, and wonderfully many friends and memories. I’m amused that I can already sound sentimental, seeing as I’ve been more than ready for graduation for quite some time. I suppose the only thing I rue is the fact that I didn’t have nearly enough time to see all of my friends during the course of the weekend. But it’s now over, for which I am grateful. (Though as you will see, much has happened in the time since graduation…)