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The Cuckoo's Egg

The Cuckoo's Egg

“The Cuckoo’s Egg” is a thrilling tale of the eccentric (search videos of his lectures on Youtube & you will see what I mean) astronomer Clifford Stoll’s journey to find the cause of a $0.75 accounting issue on the computer system at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. This seemingly mundane issue quickly revealed itself to be something much more mysterious. After discovering that the accounting error came from an unknown person using 9 seconds of uncharged computer time, Cliff began a multi year investigation that reads like the plot of a spy movie.

Possibly more entertaining than the twists & turns of the tracking of the hacker is Cliff, with his laid back, hippy, quirky personality, interacting with higher ups at the various intelligent agencies.

Truly a great example of perseverance & tenacity, “The Cuckoo’s Egg” will inspire you to let your curiousity guide you no matter where the path might take you.

London

Classic London

Classic London

While flying standby to South Africa with two friends, we got stuck in London for a couple days due to the flights to South Africa being pretty full. Rather than waste time in the airport hoping to catch one of these flights, we decided to explore London. This was the second time in London for Danielle & I, but Joe had never been so we basically redid our first trip.

Getting stuck actually ended up being a good thing because even though our time in London was short, it was fun & left us with some strange & funny stories.

Trip Video

Boston to London

This trip was even more special than my other trips because this trip we were flying on Danielle’s concessional or as I like to call it super standby. It bumps up your priority and gives you business class if it is open. Lucky for us the flight to London was pretty empty so we got to live it up in business class!

Talk about legroom!

Talk about legroom!

We landed at 3pm & waited around for our 9pm flight to Cape Town. It wasn’t till final boarding that they told us there wasn’t any room & the next flight for us to try was 9pm the next day. Unsure what to do, we debated sleeping at the airport & waiting the whole next day for the flight but the loads weren’t looking good. At 3am, after almost just going to Rome or Amsterdam for a couple days until the flights clear up, we decided to stay in London.

Hotel

We booked a room in a hotel in Kensington Park & ordered an Uber. This is when things started getting weird. Our driver Mafoo (or something like that) was on the phone with Danielle trying to find us. He was getting annoyed & was about to ditch us when we realized he was on the street above us. Tensions were a little high when we got in the car but I was starving so I asked him to stop at this 24 hour McDonalds on the way to the hotel. After another five minutes of him struggling to get the airport exit gate to open, we were on our way.

Mafoo says no funny business

Mafoo says no funny business

When we got to McDonalds he drove into the drivethrough & some kid was taking the trash out so he stops & agressively shouts at him, “Hey you guys open?!”. The guy, confused, gestures him to continue into the drivethrough which he does, driving past the order box & straight to the window. At this point I think, “hmmm either they do things weird in London or this guy has no idea how to order fast food”. A woman opens the window & takes our order with oddities that are to hard to describe in writing but it just added to the offness of the night. We then proceeded to the next window where the manager tells us it is gonna be “4 to 5 minutes” which Mafoo heard as “45 minutes” & became furious 😂. We pulled off to a waiting area where after about five minutes of Mafoo telling us how he is being so nice to us by stopping to get food, he goes this is taking too long & proceeds to reverse into the drivethrough, cutting off a car who just ordered. I’ll never forget the face of the lady in the window holding the next customer’s coffee. Confused as to why some little Indian guy with a car full of young white kids reversed to the window & is yelling for his food. Thankfully, it was done & we got out of there. The rest of the drive was quiet & we made it to our hotel around 5am.

5 more minutes & this would've been Mafoo

5 more minutes & this would've been Mafoo

Tired & just wanting to sleep, we went into the hotel only to find out that the receptionist doesn’t get in till 2pm. Joe & I decided to go search for a coffee shop while Danielle sat in the hallway with our luggage. After drinking some hot chocolate and watching the people of London start their day, me & Joe (struggled but ultimately) found our way back to the hotel where Danielle had quite a story for us. In the short time we were gone, the only door in the main hallway opened & some drunk naked guy came out complaining that he locked himself out of his room and he has to go the bathroom. He then proceeded to go outside & pee off the front staircase. This story was even weirder when we later found out the hotel bathroom is located in the hallway of the second floor. Danielle called the receptionist & someone came & let the guy back in his room. Again, like I told you, weird start to the trip…

Not a bathroom

Not a bathroom

Hotel 2

It was still only 6am & we were too tired to wait till 2pm so we walked the street going hotel to hotel hoping we could check in early to one of them. We finally got a room & walked up a seemingly endless staircase to the top room. At some point in our nap the fire alarm went off, I woke up, hit my head on the top bunk, & went back to bed. Then a maid opened the door a couple hours later & woke us up. Seriously, we were in the room for like 4 hours & we had a fire alarm go off & some random maid come in, weird 🤨.

Trying to find a place to sleep 😴

Trying to find a place to sleep 😴

London Stuff

The rest of the trip was pretty similar to the first one so I’ll just put some pics.

London Eye

London Eye

Upto no good on the riverboat

Upto no good on the riverboat

Big Ben

Big Ben

Portrait mode 👍

Portrait mode 👍

On Our Way to Cape Town

Our short jaunt in London was fun but now onto the real trip!

Pretty sure it was actually the deadly art of Chop Suey

Pretty sure it was actually the deadly art of Chop Suey

Puerto Rico

El Yunque

Trip Video

Old San Juan

Our first journey on the trip was to see the Castillo San Cristóbal and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan. Located on a small peninsula, both of the castillos are within a short walk of each other & for $5 you get to walk through both of them. Walking through the castillos & the adjoining cemetery, you get a glimpse back into the 16th century, all while enjoying the beautiful ocean view. Careful where you park, we (& a bunch of other cars) ended up accidentally parking in a permit parking area & getting a $250 ticket 😖.

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

El Yunque

Next stop was El Yunque – the only tropical rain forest in the United States territory. We had all been in forests before but this was on a whole different level. The foliage was tall, lush, & greener than I thought possible. You can take a short trail to Mina Falls (Cascada La Mina) where you can swim in a pool at the bottom of the falls.

Cascada La Mina

Cascada La Mina

There are a few towers you can find throughout the park that you can ascend their spiral straircases to get a good view from the top. For an even better view, you can hike the El Yunque Trail which brings you to the second highest point in Puerto Rico.

Made it to the top

Made it to the top

Camuy National Park

When I travel to a place that has cave tours I always take them because, well, caves are cool 🦇. Needless to say when I saw that you could take a tour of the Camuy Caverns I added it to the activity list. The cavern is a little over an hour and half drive from San Juan (where we were staying), but well worth it. $18 & a windy trolley ride down a steep mountainside later, we found ourselves walking into a giant cave. It is hard to get good photos inside the cave but it is an amazing site to see the giant underground expanse.

A big skylight

A big skylight

Arecibo

After exploring the cave in Camuy, we headed to the nearby Arecibo Observatory. You have probably seen the famous Arecibo satellite dish in the James Bond movie Goldeneye. Regardless, seeing the 1,000ft wide dish in person is awe inspiring. Entry into the observatory is $10 & comes with a small but interesting science museum section & a very informative tour. I think it is worth pointing out that I despise tours but the young employees of the observatory were all very knowledgable & good spirited & actually make the tour very enjoyable.

Wonder if I can get HBO for free with this thing...

Wonder if I can get HBO for free with this thing...

Jobos Beach

Heading another hour northwest from the observatory, we arrived at Jobos beach in Isabela. With its lack of resorts and fancy restaurants, Jobos beach has a local feel & is not full of tourists. Jobos is known for its beach walls, rocky barriers that you can walk on & watch the waves crash against.

Jobos Beach

Jobos Beach

Climb with care though because from what the locals told us, people get hurt on the rocks pretty frequently. We spent the better part of the afternoon climbing the rocks & exploring the length of the beach.

The Puerto Rico crew enduring the splashing waves

The Puerto Rico crew enduring the splashing waves

Culebra

When we asked some locals about which is the best beach in Puerto Rico, the answer was unanimous; Flamenco beach onthe island of Culebra. The tricky thing about Culebra is getting there. You can either take a $2 government run ferry or charter an expensive boat or plane. We chose the ferry which required getting up early in the morning to get to Fajardo at around 6AM to get tickets for the 9AM ferry before they sold out.

Ferry life

Ferry life

Although the ferry is by far the cheapest way to get to Culebra it is not for the weak of heart & if I did it again I would probably charter a flight. The ferry is really meant for locals so it already looks a little dodgey & is known to sometimes breakdown. Thankfully the trip went smooth for us, well not smooth, but no breakdowns. First off I should inform you that I get seasick super easy so I took some dramamine but had already come to terms with the fact that I was probably going to be miserable. The seating area is a bunch of benches in the bottom bow of the ship (a.k.a the worst motion part of the ship). After about ten minutes of watching the wall sway up & down 10ft, I got up, yada yada yada, & then stood on the deck talking to some Direct TV guy for the rest of the 45 minute journey. One by one the rest of the group (who don’t get seasick easy) got sick & joined me on the deck. Moral of the story, you will probably get sea sick on the ferry.

Flamenco Beach

Flamenco Beach

The views from the ferry as you approached the island were pretty beautiful. Finally arriving at the small island of Culebra, we hopped in a van that for a small fee would drop us off & pick us up from the beach. One of the locals had told us that the beach on Culebra was on the list of top ten most beautiful beaches in the world & although I am not sure if that is true or not, I can believe it. The fact that not many people lived on the island and it is kind of a pain to get to, the beautiful beach was emptier than any beach I have ever been to!

Looks like something out of a brochure

Looks like something out of a brochure

The island was used in the mid 1900’s by the U.S. Navy as a bombing practice site & still has tanks & apparently active land mines to show for it. Unfortantely, another downside to taking the ferry was that we had to catch the last one back at 5pm so we didn’t have much time on the island. If I were to do it again I would plan to camp for the night at the campsite next to the beach.

Gotta defend the sand castle

Gotta defend the sand castle

Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay

Another must do when visting Puerto Rico is night kayaking at the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. One of only five bioluminescent bays in the whole world, the Fajardo bay has dinoflagallates which cause the bay to glow. We booked our tour through Pure Adventure for $48 a person & it is seriously one of the best things I’ve done in my whole life.

Either this is photoshopped or he is in a giant Porta Potty

Either this is photoshopped or he is in a giant Porta Potty

Honestly, the biolminescent part of tour was way over hyped. Google bioluminescent bay & you will see fantastic photos of water with glowing blue auras. BS!!! I didn’t even know we had made it to the bay until the tour guide told us to scoop the water & see the blue specks in our hand. I still thought it was cool that when I scooped the water or flicked some up with my oar, specs of blue would glow for a moment but wish they didn’t oversell it so much. You might be asking yourself, “Why did this kid say this was one of his favorite things ever if the glow didn’t live up to the hype?”. First off, don’t call me kid & second, it was the trip to the bay & the night sky that made the whole tour for me.

Real thing

Real thing

In order to get to and from the bay you have to kayak through these skinny channels lined with trees & other branchy things. Now keep in mind it is pitch black in the channel, with the trees blocking the moonlight, & the only light you have to guide you is a tiny led on the back of the kayak in front of you. Honestly, this was a little creepy at first, especially when we got to the part where there were fish jumping into people’s kayaks 😮🐠, but the darkness mixed with two of my friends inability to coordinate their rowing made the whole thing hilarious. Then when we finally got to the bay, it was the most amazing view of the stars that I have ever seen. It was a night full of laughs, kayak debauchery, beautiful stars, & some “glowing” water. Also, trust me, the tour guides aren’t lying when they tell you that your cameras & GoPro will not capture anything. I have a whole bunch of pitch black footage to prove it.

Rappelling & River Tubing

Last minute we planned one more adventure to do before we said adiós to Puerto Rico. Looking at the top packages on Trip Advisor, we ended up booking a half day tour (Option #3 at Tanama River Adventures ) which included hiking, a 250ft rappel, river trekking, cave tubing, free jumping, & lunch. I highly recommnend going on this tour or atleast one of the tours with this company. They were all extremely friendly & you cannot beat the prices.

The best lazy river

The best lazy river

I had done a little rappelling before but this was by far the longest one & definitely the most scenic. You drop down in front of a huge cave entrance to the river below. Before they detach you they have you do a Tarzan swing (upside down if you are brave enough!). You then trek along the beautiful river, eventually tubing through a cave where bats are literally within touching distance. The free jump was a little scary since I don’t really like heights but in the spirit of embracing everything Puerto Rico has to offer we all did both the jumps; one at ~15ft & another at ~25ft. The water made it hard to take pictures but the end of the trip video gives you a good look into the tour.

The End

We all had a blast in Puerto Rico & managed to squeeze a lifetime’s worth of adventures into one week!

Mike holding his own at La Placita de Santurce

Mike holding his own at La Placita de Santurce

Iceland

The landscape is amazing

The landscape is amazing

I had heard so many good things about Iceland so Danielle, my mom, & I decided to go for four days to check it out. The first noteworthy thing is a round trip flights on WOW Airlines to Reykjavik only costs $300, for international travel, it is a steal! The flight we took was an overnight, leaving at 6:20pm, in the air for five and half hours, & getting in a little before 5am (damn time change!). None of us really slept on the flight so the first day was a struggle. First thing was getting the rental car. The morning was cold & pitch black as we wandered around outside of the airport for an Alamo dealership that thankfully a bus driver finally told us was managed in the Enterprise office 😑. Piling into our new “sporty” Toyota Yaris, we headed to our Airbnb that was about fifteen minutes outside of Reykjavik. After some much needed naps, we headed out on our first adventure – grocery shopping.

I don't know why I find it so funny seeing the packaging in other countries

I don't know why I find it so funny seeing the packaging in other countries

This was when we first saw that the language barrier here is a bit of a problem. No one there seemed to speak English but a store worker managed to help us as much as she could and we go an interesting assortment of food for the week. Prepared with lots of snacks, we started our journey on one of Iceland’s biggest attractions, Ring Road. Ring Road is a two lane road that traverses the whole of the outside of Iceland. Driving the whole thing would take more time than we had so we focused on the main section with plenty of waterfalls and hotsprings.

Ring Road

Ring Road

We headed south to our first destination, Strokkur geyser. Along the way we took plenty of pit stops to admire the beautiful & unique geography of Iceland. I have never seen anything like it, with its dark, jagged, rocky ground riddled with earth splintering cracks, it was truly a cool sight. When we finally got to Strokkur, we were amazed at how big the geyser blast was and how often it went off. I was excited because I had just gotten my new iPhone which had slow motion video recording!

Waterfalls

We ended up seeing a bunch of waterfalls on the trip so yeah here are some pics 🙃

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall

Some waterfall

Some waterfall

A hidden waterfall

A hidden waterfall

Got closer

Got closer

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

We spent a half day exploring Reykjavik and were amazed by the multicolored buildings, nice coastal boardwalk, & lively atmosphere. You cannot miss Hallgrímskirkja, the giant church located in Reykjavik. For something like $7 you can take an elevator up to the top of the church & get a great 360 view of Reykjavik.

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

Volcano

Iceland has a few volcanoes you can visit but they are far off the main road. On our third night, after driving to see one last waterfall, we realized we were close to a volcano so decided to try to see it. Following the GPS I turned off the main road onto another normal road & after about 10 minutes it suddenly dropped a half foot to a gravel road riddled with giant potholes. Perhaps I was driving too fast but it was so dark & by the time I saw the road change it was too late to stop. What seemed like a whole minute of skipping & skidding later, I brought the Yaris to a dead stop & much to my amazement the wheels were still on. Seriously, it was by far the roughest experience I’ve ever had in a car & would’ve not been surprised at all if a wheel had snapped off. Anyway, thinking the worst was out of the way we continued down this dark, desolate gravel road in hopes of seeing this volcano. After another 20 minutes I came upon a sign that seemed to suggest that if you weren’t in a giant jeep you should turn around. Stubborn & far too confident with the Yaris, we carried on only to come upon a giant puddle in the road. Having learned through previous run ins with deceptively deep puddles we decided it was best to turn around. Little did I know that on the side of the road was about four inches higher than the road and after a couple of seconds of horrible scraping sounds, the car came to rest with three wheels on the elevated ground and the front right tire dangling about an inch off the road. We were stuck. Like really stuck. Underside of the car on the ground kind of stuck. Not sure who to call, we first tried a number for roadside assistance which lead to a cycle of a guy answering, us asking if he spoke English, him saying “yesshhhhh”, us explaining our problem, & him hanging up. Luckily after 20 minutes an SUV came down the road and I flagged the driver down. Even luckier for us, the guy had a tow rope & got us unstuck. Can’t remember his name but if you are reading this Icelandic horse farmer man, thank you! Thankful to be free, we cut our losses, & went back home.

Not us but a good example of why you shouldn't trust puddles

Not us but a good example of why you shouldn't trust puddles

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is kind of expensive but it is a can’t miss if you got to Iceland. The thought of sitting in a hot pool with a bunch of strangers wasn’t at the top of my list but once you get in you realize it is huge. We ended up spending about five hours just hanging out in the nice, hot water.

Look at how blue the water is

Look at how blue the water is

The trip was a quick one but we managed to cover a lot of Iceland, see numerous waterfalls, hot springs, geysers, drink lots of hot chocolate, & get our car stuck.

I don't trust that hotdog man

I don't trust that hotdog man

Spain

One of my college friends was taking a 6 month jaunt around Europe after graduating from grad school and invited me to join her. After a long few minutes of deliberation, I started looking at tickets and two weeks later I was on a plane heading to Barcelona.

Barcelona

The view from the top of Gaudí House

The view from the top of Gaudí House

My Spain trip started in beautiful Barcelona. I had heard a lot of hype about Barcelona and honestly it lived upto it. Great food, beautiful beaches, & a great night life, Barcelona really had it all. My only problem with Barcelona was that I only had three days here. I basically spent all three at the beach but that wasn’t enough. Coming from Boston where we only get a few months out of the year where you can go to the beach and maybe not freeze to death in the water, when I visit a nice beach like the ones in Barcelona, I never want to leave!

One of my favourite spots in Barcelona

One of my favourite spots in Barcelona

Sam did manage to get me away from the beach long enough for us to visit La Familia Sagrada, Gaudi’s house, La Boqueria Mercat, & for me to try paella for the first time (a.k.a. the moment I developed a paella addiction). Barcelona was also the first place I drank sangria and much like the paella, would be a very frequent reoccurance during the trip.

La Familia Sagrada

La Familia Sagrada

Madrid

Mural of the motto of Madrid

Mural of the motto of Madrid

After a three hour train ride, we arrived in Madrid and admittedly I was sad at first to be away from the beach but in the end Madrid won me over. Neither of us really like tours but in an attempt to actually see & learn something about Madrid, we joined a free walking tour. I wish I could remember the guide’s name because he was so informative and funny, definitely recommend jumping on one of these tours if you ever find yourself in Madrid. We also ended up doing tapas tour and bar crawl with the same company which were both also fantastic.

Cat's Hostel

Cat's Hostel

Not only was this my first time in Madrid but also my first time staying in a hostel. We stayed in Cat’s Hostel and couldn’t have been more happy with it. We didn’t have any problem with the other people in our room and it was so easy to meet fellow travelers at the hostel bar. They even host a bar crawl which was one of the funnest nights I had on the whole trip!

Toledo

Gotta thank Sam for her photography skills

Gotta thank Sam for her photography skills

From Madrid we took a day trip (via train) to the city of Toledo. Before this trip, when I thought of Spain I pictured old cities, small stone streets, & dated buildings, little did I know I was picturing Toledo the whole time. As we navigated the small, winding (and often steep) streets of Toledo, we popped in and out of shops selling various knick knacks and antiques, and visited a few of the musuems (Sam’s favorite being the museum of torture (Weirdo…))

Valencia

Cool gargoyle statue on a bridge in Valencia

Cool gargoyle statue on a bridge in Valencia

The last leg of the trip brought us to Valencia. The vibe here was a lot more laid back & relaxed than Madrid & Barcelona which was nice because we were running out of steam by this point in the trip. The AirBnb we stayed in was my favourite place we stayed the whole trip because it was on this beautiful street lit up by golden lamps at night and in the morning there was a market downstairs with a guy playing some relaxing music loud enough for us to hear.

We were running out of days and one of the last things left on our list was to go to a Flamenco show. We had passed on a couple earlier in the trip because they were more expensive and seemed less authentic and more touristy. Luckily, Sam found a small bar doing a Flamenco night for $12 a person (including a drink), score! I had never seen Flamenco before & at first found it to be some kind of weird interpretive tap dance but quickly fell in love with it & was in awe at the passion and intensity of the singers & dancers.

Valencia museum of science

Valencia museum of science

One of my favorite parts of Valencia was the river park – running through most of the city is a dry river which is now a series of walking/biking paths & parks. One part of the river walk is home to a group of some of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen in person; the museum of science, the musuem of art, & the aquarium.

Back Home

I absolutely loved my time in Spain and am gonna miss the beaches, sangria, paella, & people so much!

Miss you already

Miss you already