Author: Matt

Mergui Archipelago


In the far southeast edge of Myanmar/Burma sits a series of islands that are among the most untouched and remote in the world: the Mergui Archipelago. Visiting the Mergui Archipelago requires some advanced planning and time, but getting there is not as difficult as you think.

Many people know the region for the Moken sea gypsies, a topic I’ve written on in the past. Visiting the Mergui Archipelago is the only way to see the Moken sea gypsies, but the trip is well worth it and provides an opportunity to see some of the most remote, untouched islands anywhere.

Pre-departure briefing on our route and destinations within the Mergui Archipelago!

Pre-departure briefing on our route and destinations within the Mergui Archipelago!

One of the few departure points to visit the Mergui Archipelago is out of the Myanmar/Burmese port of Kawthoung, which is located at the very southern tip of the country and is just across an inlet from Ranong, Thailand. I flew domestically from Yangon/Rangoon to Kawthoung Airport, although as of this posting you can also fly from Bangkok to Ranong on Nok Air, then take a small boat across.

Time to rig the sails and set out for the open sea! (Great, now I'll be humming "Come Sail Away" for the next week)

Time to rig the sails and set out for the open sea! (Great, now I’ll be humming “Come Sail Away” for the next week)

I’d plan in advance and have a tour of the Mergui Archipelago already booked, and keep in mind that the season ends around late April/early May. After that, the monsoon season starts and most tour companies close up for the season. I went in April and it was hot, upwards of 110+ (43C+) on some days — one day the sunlit deck of the sailboat was literally hot enough to fry an egg, but you could always cool off in the sea and the sea-breeze kept things reasonable.

This small fishing boat on the horizon was the last boat we saw for hours!

This small fishing boat on the horizon was the last boat we saw for hours!

Although the Mergui Archipelago isn’t as nearly closed off as it was in the early 2000’s, entry by foreigners is still strictly controlled. Before departing, Myanmar Immigration officers boarded our boat and gathered the passports of all guests and crew until we returned to port. It was a little unsettling at first, but the officers were extremely friendly, and — keep in mind — they really want to protect this natural treasure, so it’s important they control entry.
MO7A6418You can book a tour of nearly any length —from overnight to 1-2 weeks, although there are not many approved operators (and nowhere to resupply), so longer voyages can really put a dent in your pocketbook.
DSCN0039Once we left the Kawthoung & Ranong area, we could go hours without seeing another boat — even far away on the horizon. This is truly one of the last undiscovered places.
DSCN0012The islands themselves were beautiful, peppered throughout the Andaman Sea in all shapes and sizes. Many had immaculate beaches where you could easily spend a day relaxing or exploring and have the entire island to yourself. As mentioned earlier, we also made two stops in villages of Moken sea gypsies, which was a one of a kind experience.

Stay tuned to The Prodigal Dog for more posts on Myanmar and the Andaman Sea (and check out our post on Mandalay). And don’t forget to subscribe!

Minuteman Missile


Not long ago, a high-ranking friend of mine in the military gave me an experience few will ever see. After filling out reams of paperwork and going through an extensive background investigation, I was given permission to tour to a top secret nuclear missile launch site in eastern South Dakota.

This blast door was designed to protect the underground bunker and control center from an enemy missile strike

This blast door was designed to protect the underground bunker and control center from an enemy missile strike

Ok. Ok. Not really. The true “paperwork” involved was waiting in line at a desk to get a ticket to a tour of Minute Missile National Historic Site and museum, a national landmark — and extremely unique experience — now operated by the National Park Service.

As a computer geek, this part was near and dear: These are the computers that controlled everything on the complex

As a computer geek, this part was near and dear: These are the computers that controlled everything on the complex

A dream-come-true for any Cold War history buff (or — really — anyone fascinated by large expensive things that go “boom”), Minuteman Missile National Historic Site allows you to tour the above and below ground facilities of a real nuclear missile site. This facility was continuously manned (or “on alert”) for nearly 30 years throughout the Cold War.

The was the real deal. This panel is where missile officers would enter launch codes and enable the 10 Minuteman II Missiles

The real deal. This panel is where missile officers would enter launch codes and enable the 10 Minuteman II Missiles

The launch-control center at Minuteman Missile Historic Site was responsible for 10 Minuteman II missiles, each of which was located several miles away in the surrounding countryside. The center consisted of an above-ground building that included a kitchen, dormitory, and living area, along with the underground control bunker.


Photo taken at one end of the control room — the entire space was about the size of an RV. And, true to lore, two missile keys must be simultaneously turned from opposite ends of the room — too far for one person to do alone.

The bunker itself is about the size of an RV, and included a toilet, bunk, and two chairs. Each crew consisted of two officers and a “two man” rule was always in effect — no one was to be left alone inside the control room. To enter the control room, you’d take an elevator down several stories underground, then enter through a large blast door that looks like it’s out of a Hollywood movie. Each bunker was suspended on massive springs and shock absorbers; if an enemy nuke hit nearby, the Air Force wanted those computers (and people) safe and sound enough to complete a launch.

Above-ground sleeping facility for above-ground crew or officers off-duty.

Above-ground sleeping facility for above-ground crew or officers off-duty.

The Minuteman Missile Historic Site is above an hour from Ellsworth Air Force Base, and — as you can imagine, — South Dakota winters get cold and hazardous. As a result, many of these missile crews found themselves pulling double shifts when winter conditions closed roads and kept their relief crew from getting to them. It really makes you appreciate the service and hard work these men and women put in.

If you’re interested in the history of the U.S. nuclear program, I can’t recommend the book Command and Control highly enough! It’s an excellent book from the same author as Fast Food Nation.

As far as I know, this site is only one of two places in the U.S. where you can tour a decommissioned nuclear control facility and, as a matter of fact, I recently toured the other one: Titan Missile Museum located in Tucson. Sign up for updates from The Prodigal Dog to be the first to know when that post goes live!

Incan Laboratory


Roughly 90 minutes from the former Incan capital of Cusco you can find a living example of the genius and ingenuity of this mysterious civilization: the Moray Inca Ruins.

Moray Inca Ruins
The Moray Inca Ruins are an elaborate series of tiered terraces perched at an elevation of about 11,500 feet (3,500 meters). Each terrace is roughly 4-6’ deep and there are a total of about 23 separate levels. Although the site is large, it isn’t anywhere near the massive scale of similar terraces at Pisac or Machu Picchu, and therefore was not likely designed to feed a large population. So what was its purpose?

Shot from within Moray looking up into the surrounding Andes

Shot from within Moray looking up into the surrounding Andes

Interestingly, the Moray Inca design creates a micro-climate within the different levels of the site. Due to differences in elevation, sun, irrigation, and wind exposure, the conditions experienced by crops varied greatly. As just one example, the temperature difference between the top and bottom terraces regularly varies by 25-30° F (about 15° C). One account I found claimed that the difference can reach up to 59° F!

The "Floating Steps" were used by workers as stairs between levels

The “Floating Steps” were used by workers as stairs between levels

In other words, the Moray Inca site served as an ancient crop laboratory, allowing them to test and tweak agricultural experiments that could benefit their geographically diverse empire! After all, Incan territory stretched from modern-day Ecuador all the way through Peru, western Bolivia, and covering roughly half of Chile! Some speculation has been made that this even included creation of hybrid fruits and vegetables, custom made for particular climates.

Our site mascot explores the Moray Inca site!

Our site mascot explores the Moray Inca site!

We’ve been on break for awhile, but are excited to kick off a new series of posts, starting with this — our first on South America!

The Pitons

St. Lucia Piton

A mere 240 miles from the coast of South America sits an amazing island country with two iconic peaks, and St. Lucia’s pitons are sure to impress. St. Lucia’s pitons, which are technically volcanic spires, are located right along the coast, just past the town of Soufrière, and are open for climbing.

Summit of St. Lucia's Pitons

A short drive along the east coast of the island will afford plenty of opportunities to see St. Lucia’s pitons, and I highly recommend picking a hill-side spot and catching a sunset hitting the pitons, hills, and ocean all at once. If you’re feeling particularly flush, there are several resorts with prime real estate between the Pitons, so you can enjoy them from the comfort of a pool or on your deck, although I did not fall in this category!

Summit of Petit Piton in St. Lucia

Looking down from the peak of Petit Piton

Those seeking to climb St. Lucia’s Pitons should know that they are known as Gros Piton (2,530 ft) and Petit Piton (2,438 ft). Don’t let the names or heights fool you, though. Petit Piton is actually the more challenging climb, despite being shorter. This is due to Petit Peton being narrower and, therefore, steeper, requiring some technical scrambling using hands, feet, and — sometimes — ropes and other equipment that are already present on the trail. Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear I opted for Petit Piton!


I highly recommend hiring a guide to climb St. Lucia’s pitons, and usually a guide will find you before you can find them. It’s a small, friendly island, where nearly everyone knows someone who freelances as a guide when available. As soon as you mention you’d like to climb one of St. Lucia’s pitons, you’ll likely to get a flurry of references and recommendations.


In addition to helping you get yourself, and your equipment, up the piton while staying on the trail, it’s also good for the local economy. Our guide told us that many younger men are tempted by less-desirable (and less-legal) industries due to high unemployment, so keeping them employed as guides is a win-win for everyone.


Great view of the surrounding bay from the summit of Petit Piton

Once atop one of Saint Lucia’s pitons, you have a great, bird’s eye view of the surrounding area. The round trip doesn’t take long, either — at least not as long as you’d think looking up at the looming peaks. As a result, you can hit the peak one part of the day and have plenty of time left for other exploring or lounging on the beach.

Bhutan Tiger’s Nest

Tiger's Nest Bhutan Paro Taktsang

The nation of Bhutan is like a modern day Shangri-La. Nestled into the peaks of the Himalayas, it’s extremely difficult to access by land, and has only one airport with only a few flights a day.

Arriving at Paro Airport

Arriving at Paro Airport

Bhutan is largely Buddhist and focuses great efforts on preserving its cultural heritage, beautiful natural resources, and national identity. The country is perhaps most famous for its Gross National Happiness, a measure devised by its government. In contrast to GDP, an economic measure used around the world, Gross National Happiness measures the contentment of the population.

Tiger's Nest Bhutan Paro Taktsang

The main street of Paro sits about 3,000 feet below the Tiger’s Nest.

Bhutan is a must-see amongst adventure seekers, mostly due to its numerous treks available through the surrounding Himalaya, and breathtaking Buddhist monasteries and temples. Chief among them is the Tiger’s Nest, not far from Paro, home of the country’s airport and, therefore, arrival point for most visitors.

Tiger's Nest Bhutan Paro Taktsang

Tiger’s Nest, or Taktsang, can only be reached on foot by hike. The trip is advertised to take roughly 2-3 hours, which I found to be true on average. More experienced hikers will move more quickly, while others may need more time.

Tiger's Nest Bhutan Paro Taktsang

As long as you’re in reasonably good shape (and acclimatized to the altitude), you should have no problem reaching the monastery — there were two members in our group in their late 60’s who had no trouble, but did need a little extra time. The journey isn’t overly arduous or technical.

As mentioned, acclimatization to the altitude is important. Paro sits at an altitude of roughly 7,200ft (~2,200m), while Tiger’s Nest is just above 10,000ft (~3,050m). Be sure to drink plenty of water, as this aids in acclimatization.

The Tiger’s Nest of today is a modern recreation, but is nevertheless stunning, and even seems at first glance to be out of a fairy tale or movie set. The original monastery, built in 1692, caught fire and burned down in the late 20th century, mostly due to the remove location — it’s hard to get a fire crew and sufficient water up a hiking trail.

A trip to the Tiger’s Nest has a feeling of being other-worldly, as with many places in Bhutan. This stunning creation is unlike anything you’ve ever seen!

Mandalay Palace Walls

Mandalay Palace Walls

In the heart of Myanmar’s second largest city lies a large palace of biblical proportions — Mandalay Palace. It’s hard to fully realize the size of Mandalay Palace without seeing it for yourself — it takes the form of a square roughly 5 miles in perimeter. A large, medieval-style moat encircles the historic site, which is roughly 2 centuries old.

Mandalay Palace Walls

At sunset, the wall’s towers are lit up — a beautiful site, especially on a calm night, when the moat’s water is still and reveals a stunning reflection of the structure against a multicolored sunset.

Mandalay Palace Walls

A photo from Mandalay Hill looking onto Mandalay Palace’s walls and moat

If the structure wasn’t impressive enough, it feels even larger when trying to circumnavigate it on a particularly hot day. The day I set out around the palace, the mercury read 112 degrees F (that’s 44 C), hitting a 115 heat index.

Despite that, it’s a great place to sit in the shade, drink [lots] of water, and intermingle with locals. Believe it or not, I was one of perhaps only three or four foreigners I saw on my long walk — like much of Myanmar, Mandalay remains relatively unexplored by outsiders.

Mandalay Palace Walls

A photo from Mandalay Hill looking into the Burmese countryside

Some of the best views of Mandalay Palace can be seen from nearby Mandalay Hill, an elevated area of the city containing several temples, historic sites, and view points. From there, you can see for miles, be it straight down Mandalay’s wide avenues or deep into the Burmese countryside.

It wasn’t until two days later that I had a chance to explore Mandalay Palace itself, inside the massive structure at the center of the city. Check back soon for a full post on Mandalay Palace’s structures.


After my long walk, I quickly found a local outdoor restaurant that served ice cold beer and some delicious fried rice. My dinner tab of two beers and a large plate of chicken fried rice came to a total of about $1.80.

Alaska Glaciers

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

In the last few days of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss something perfect for the summer months: visiting Alaska glaciers! Giant sheets of ice may not be your idea of a relaxing summer, but read on and maybe you’ll have second thoughts.

Alaska Glaciers Mendenhall

The Mendenhall Glacier, seen from a nearby lake

Many people wonder why the heck a glacier would be interesting in the first place. My best answer to that is that they are far more impressive and awe-inspiring in person than you think they’ll be. Some of the larger glaciers dwarf a cruise ship and stretch on beyond the horizon for miles, and when they calve (when a chunk breaks off), it sounds like a clap of thunder.

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

Although there are, of course, glaciers in many places around the world (and North America), I’d argue that Alaska glaciers prove the most interesting and accessible for those living in the U.S.

Many visitors to Alaska (myself included) experience it first by going on a cruise with a set itinerary. That may sound inflexible, but there are still several opportunities to see glaciers — almost every cruise itinerary includes Juneau and Glacier Bay.

Alaska Glaciers Mendenhall

Wide-angle view of Mendenhall Glacier (obstructed by fog) and its nearby Lake

In Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier is about a 10 minute drive from downtown. In addition to being an impressive glacier, it’s setting is absolutely beautiful; it’s on a scenic lake surrounded by landscape that’s protected as a national forrest.

Alaska Glaciers

Ending our bicycle and glacier tour with a brew

Most cruise operators will require you to pay for an excursion to see the glacier, or you can simply hire a cab to go solo. In our case, my friends and I booked a bicycle tour that included Mendenhall and ended in a beer tasting. Our coconspirator Tom even saw a bear near the glacier… Nature. Biking. Glaciers. Bears. Beer. What more do you want?

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

Our ship sails into Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay is a different beast, as there are no places to dock. For that reason, most cruise operators will spend an afternoon circling the bay, allowing for plenty of opportunities to see the glaciers from aboard the ship. If you’re arriving by land, there are ways to see the glaciers on foot, as well. Day trips to the Bay are also available from a few cities in southern Alaska.

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

These are just two of the many Alaska glaciers you can see. If you’re off the beaten path, I also recommend the LeConte Glacier near Petersburg, Alaska. I haven’t been, but I’ve heard great things.

If you’re interested in a trip to see Alaskan glaciers, the best time is during summer months, as you’ll have the best weather and longer days, plus most operators shut down as the tourist season ends around September.

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

The Cape of Good Hope, discovered by the explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, is an iconic symbol of exploration, Africa, and travel on the oceans. It also represents the demarcation between the Atlantic and Indian oceans.* If you ever have the opportunity, discover the Cape of Good Hope for yourself by making the short car trip from Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

Atlantic Ocean on the left, Indian Ocean on the right

The Cape of Good Hope is wrapped in many layers of history and lore — great explorers like Dias and da Gama as well as the legend of The Flying Dutchman and the Cape of Storms all trace back here.

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

A memorial to the explorer who discovered the Cape of Good Hope sits in the background

As a result, markers and memorials can be found throughout the Cape Point [official site], the area encompassing the tip of the Cape. Many of these celebrate the various explorers who contributed to the history and discovery of the Cape of Good Hope.

Cape of Good Hope Discover

In addition to the history, there is great scenery and wildlife to be found in the area as well. The landscape is unlike any place I’ve been — it almost feels like an alien planet, especially if you’re lucky enough to be there in the low season with few tourists. We also encountered a wild ostrich making its way across the park, and saw evidence of other creatures as well.

To get to Cape Point, you simply set out on the main coastal road heading south from Cape Town. The trip is an excellent opportunity to discover the Cape of Good Hope region, as there are many sights to see along the way, including a penguin colony, and several great coast coastal towns.

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

And, if you’re in South Africa, you should absolutely head to the northeast of the country to see Kruger and find the Big Five animals: elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, and lion.

*Okay, okay. If you really want to be technical about it, the official boundary between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans is Cape Agulhas, a few dozen miles to the east. But most people have never heard of Cape Agulhas and fewer have visited, so let’s just call it Cape Point and make everyone happy!

Yellowstone Winter By Car

Yellowstone Winter Car Buffalo

For today’s post, I’m going to bring it back a little closer to home for those of us in the US and talk about visiting Yellowstone by car in winter. One of my favorite things anywhere are national parks, so expect this to be the first of many.

My favorite things also include giant underground supervolcanos and pre-historic-looking creatures, so Yellowstone has my bases covered. Yellowstone is a fairly common destination, but few people know that you can visit Yellowstone by car in winter.

Yellowstone Winter Car

Indeed, the north and northeast entrances to the park are both open during the winter, as well as the road connecting them. Note that this area does not include Old Faithful. If you want to see it, you’ll need to go via snow coach. The park also allows a limited number of snow mobiles via other entrances, if you want to try your luck there.

Yellowstone Winter Car Geyser

Although Old Faithful is out, there are still plenty of thermal features to be seen when visiting Yellowstone by car in winter. Far better photographers have taken far better photos of Yellowstone, so I’ll try to include a few more unique views in here that you may not have seen before, including these up-close shots taken at Mammoth.

Yellowstone Winter Car Geyser

What many don’t know is that the thermal features are driven by an underground supervolcano that lies deep beneath the park and spans about 45 miles on its longest measurement.

Yellowstone Winter Car Buffalo Bison

Another iconic feature of Yellowstone is, of course, its bison. You’re virtually guaranteed to see at least a few during your time there, and watching them move gracefully through the snow just adds to the experience.

Yellowstone Winter Car Buffalo Bison

If you do decide to visit Yellowstone in winter by car, then be sure to plan your trip well. Call the park before you go or check their website on visiting Yellowstone in winter to ensure you have a full picture of what roads are open.

As the world’s first national park, this is place a must see for every outdoor enthusiast. Although summers are beautiful, visiting Yellowstone by car in winter is an experience unto itself.

Kilimanjaro’s Airports

Kilimanjaro Airport

Kilimanjaro’s airports are the gateway to Africa’s highest mountain, where thousands begin a journey that will take them to the Roof of Africa. In this post, we’ll discuss how to get there — Kilimanjaro’s airports, flights, and starting your adventure.

Many don’t realize there are actually two airports serving the region: Kilimanjaro Airport and Arusha Airport.

Kilimanjaro Airport

The peak of Kilimanjaro looms in the background on the Shira Plateau

For most, getting to Kilimanjaro likely necessitates traveling via Kilimanjaro International Airport, which is served by a number of international carriers, including KLM, Turkish, Qatar, and a few domestic and international African airlines (click here for the most up to date list). Although many will enter the country at this point, I arrived via South Africa, which routed me through Dar es Salaam then on a domestic flight to Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro Airport

Photo of my flight to Dar es Salaam before departing Johannesburg International Airport

If arriving from abroad to Kilimanjaro Airport, expect to have your Yellow Fever papers checked and your visa ready, if applicable. Some fellow travelers waived the Yellow Fever vaccination requirement due to a weakened immune system — if this applies to you, I suggest you work with your doctor and climbing operator.

Arusha Airport

Our flight to Zanzibar begins boarding at Arusha Airport near Kilimanjaro

For the more adventurous, flights also operate out of nearby Arusha Airport, but many of these are small regional carriers, mostly serving Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. I departed from this airport, and, at least then, the airport terminal was about the size of a gas station.

That’s it! You’ve officially started your climb to the Roof of Africa — the continent’s highest peak! Sign up for updates and stay tuned here in the future for more posts on the actual climb, as well as other activities to do in and around the mountain.