While California holds many treasures, none are so precious as the Eastern Sierra. Every time I visit I come away wondering why I don’t spend more time here.
In the middle of May I joined a trip with friends that was intended to be a Death valley motorcycle tour. When we entered into the Eureka Valley from the North, a sand storm forced us back out to higher ground. A forecast of temperatures into the 100s made us reconsider our Death Valley tour, but this part of the world has much to offer, so we did not suffer.
First on tap was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forrest, a park I have desperately wanted to visit for a decade. Finally, the snow pack and other factors complied and my neighbor justin and I rode 12 miles of gorgeous dirt road to visit the Patriarch Grove where the oldest living trees on earth grow. The Bristlecone Pine Forrest is a unique ecosystem at an altitude of 11,000 ft. Conditions are dry and cold and the gnarly trunks of the trees tell the story of what it takes to reach 4,600 years of age.
We had planned for 100º weather so when snow started falling on our camp, much fire and whiskey was required to raise our spirits, but the natural beauty of the surrounding made up for it all.
To warm up a bit, we moved over to the Alabama Hills OHV area and set up camp. I usually try to avoid OHV areas like the plague, but, hey, we were the plague this time, so why not. In fact, we were the only OHV group in the park and enjoyed an amazing expanse of rock formations with the backdrop of Whitney Portal, gateway to the tallest mountain on the lower 48.
Being the only ones in the group with ADV bikes, Justin and I took a side trip on a tip from the gift store keeper at Whitney Portal (who also rides). We set out for the ghost town of Cerro Gordo, a former lead-silver mine in the White Mountains.
We climbed high above the Owens Valley to get to town. The unique thing about Cerro Gordo compared to other ghost towns (I am told), is that Cerro Gordo has a ground keeper so you can visit the inside of the buildings.
Our host, Robert, was the character you might expect to find at the end of a 7 mile dirt road, 8000 ft climb. Robert described being snowed in for six weeks two winters prior before he dug out. Author of three books on the mine, he knew the detailed history of the place, the gunfights, brothels, and, being a miner and certified blaster himself, the mechanics and hardships of the mining. This was the wild west for real.
Homeward bound over Sonora Pass, the Sierra views take our breath away. Over our first non-oatmeal breakfast in a week we all vow to return soon.
Your heart is racing as you run through the thick, thorny Acacia brush. The only indication of where the others are is the yelping of the dogs nearby. A clearing opens and there stands the lead hunter holding the dying body of a Vervet monkey breathing its last breaths, its entrails hanging out. The dogs are exhausted and while some are still excited by the smell of blood and the adrenaline rush of the kill others look dazed and are clearly injured from the death battle with the simian.
Another day, another hunt in the land of the Hadzabe, the last hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania.
I was fortunate to have a chance to live the life of our ancestors for less than a day: an exciting morning that started with a 4am wake-up call at our lodge.
We drove the rickety old Land Cruiser on loan from a co-worker through the rough roads, made even rougher by the torrential downpours the small rains bring. After many seemingly random left and rights through the overgrown landscape, we parked. Our guide led us through a crawling height crack in a rock that led into a large cave. Inside we were cast in a world back into time. The Hadza sat by the fire smoking their bangi and greeted us with great enthusiasm. I noticed a baboon skull on a stick in the fire, gently simmering the brains.
As dawn slowly turned the sky pink, the dogs became restless and started moaning with urgency knowing they would go out and hunt soon. We gathered and started on an unhurried, but high-paced walk through the hills of the Lake Eyasi region of Tanzania.
I’m in back in Cali after an amazing time in Brazil. I am backlogged about three posts, but just wanted to throw some fun photos of a recent trip I took to Mammoth. I particularly like this kitebus shot:
I played around with my NIK plug-in a bit to get the old-film look I wanted. Thank you Caitlin for the teamwork photo!!
It was great to be back on the snow after two years of Endless Summer, and spend time with old friends. I am already looking forward to next snow season!
I’m on my second trip to Brazil in just over a year, and I frequently get compliments on my Portuguese from Brazilians. My fellow foreign travelers just throw up their hands in disbelief that I have yet to take a class. Portuguese is not an easy language to learn, but with some applied effort and immersion it is possible to get quite fluent quickly. With a little autodidact spirit, and the help of the internet you’ll be jiving with some cariocas before you know it — here’s how I did it more or less in chronological order:
- Determination. Before I arrived in Brazil in the Spring of 2010, I decided I would learn Portuguese. This changed my mindset for the trip, and I started to look for Portuguese language before I left. Just make up your mind that you will learn.
- Music. I love Brazilian music (who doesn’t?), and I downloaded a few albums to start bobbing my head to while still in the States commuting to my job and back. I later found this website: http://letras.terra.com.br/that has excellent translation, and usually a linked video though it may not play in all countries depending the DRM.
- iPhone/iPod Touch. Any touch screen device with iOS or Android will do, but this is one of the primary tools I use dozens of times a day. Further below is a list of podcasts and apps I use/used below. This is a HUGE resource you must use. If you don’t have a fancy device, at least download some of the (free) podcasts.
- Translation websites. Of course Google translate is quite useful, but be careful, the translations usually are only an approximation, and verb conjugations are frequently entirely wrong. I recently found a website I quite like that has a database of actually translated documents (by humans): http://www.linguee.com.br This is a useful resource when you are writing business documents, and need to translate jargon. The fact that you see the translation in context beats Google translate by a mile. A useful verb conjugation website is http://www.verbix.com/languages/portuguese.shtml
- Movies and television. This one is kind of a no-brainer, but watching Brazilian movies with English (at first) and Portuguese (later) subtitles greatly speeds up learning. I loved A Mulher Invisível, and Tropa de Elite (1 and 2) has much acclaim over here as well.
- Brazilians! Last ingredient in the mix is of course the wonderful people of Brazil. You’ll never meet a more affable and inclusive crowd who will go out of their way to be helpful and hospitable. Don’t just hang out with your gringo friends! I see this frequently in hostels and think it’s really too bad. Meeting a Brazilian girlfriend/boyfriend can be a tremendous help as well, as long as they don’t speak too much English of course.
So let’s chat some more about the iOS apps and podcasts out there. The Podcasts work on any mp3 player. I’m not sure if the apps are available on Android as well.
- Podcast “Ta Falado”. This podcast is published by a professor of Portuguese at the University of Texas, Austin, and I think is extremely well done. It is titled as a Portuguese lessons for Spanish speakers, but even if you don’t have much Spanish this podcast will help you (and maybe you’ll learn some Spanish at the same time). it’s the only podcast I can recommend strongly. There are others out there, but they are usually to short, and spend half the podcast with some introduction you don’t care about promoting their website.
- App “Portuguese-English Dictionary by Ultralingua”. I actually wish I could recommend a different dictionary app like those by French publisher LaRousse which are excellent, but Ultralingua is in fact the best one out there, and they know it allowing them to charge $20 for this app (Larousse does not currently publish a pt-en dictionary though they have a pt-fr one). Of course you probably wouldn’t hesitate twice in the bookstore to spend that kind of money, so get it if you’re serious about learning Portuguese. The fact that you will always have your phone on you, means you also have a dictionary and full verb conjugations in your pocket at all times. This is a very powerful tool and a must-have!
- App “Byki Brazilian Portuguese”. This is a great app to get you going even back in the homeland with all kinds of survival phrases and words with pronunciation and flashcard test. This app really shows how language learning has changed through touch devices. It’s like a mini rosetta stone for much less money.
- App “Amazon Kindle”. I haven’t switched to iBooks, and they may offer this feature as well: Whenever you’re reading a book in the kindle app, if you hold down on the word, the app flashes a quick dictionary definition without editing the book. Here’s the kicker…it also does this with books in Portuguese! This is huge. Once you are at a level when you want to try to read a book in portuguese being able to look up words greatly reduces the pain of learning.
Hope that helps — comment with any questions and boa sorte!
Rio de Janeiro — a Cidade Maravilhosa — a city without comparison, and with a draw so strong that anyone who leaves is full of saudades and wants to return. I returned here one more time, just to double check if I really liked this place that much, and the answer is a resounding yes. It’s also almost February and that means one thing for Rio: Carnival! This year, the official carnival starts on the 17th of February and lasts until Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras) on the 21st. If you’re going, you should plan on getting there a week early or so to enjoy the bloco practices, where each neighborhood has its own carnival parade with its own song and practices on a regular basis to make sure to put on a good show during the four days of the actual carnival (starting February 17 this year).
In preparation for carnival, I have been reading a book recommended to me by a Brazilian friend. It’s called Carnival no Fogo or Carnival under Fire in English by Ruy Castro. Castro’s writing is witty and funny and gives the reader a history of Rio from the years of the first discovery by the western world until today, as well as the historical and cultural background of the famous carnival. I highly recommend it for any Riophiles or anyone planning on going there.
On a recent trip to Mexico, I had a unique opportunity to spend time with Huichol indians and partake in their Fiesta del Tambor — a festival and religious ceremony celebrating the new corn harvest, and bringing offerings to the Huichol gods as well as initiating the Huichol children into their religion.
The trip came together out of pure serendipity, as I was visiting my friends Rafe and Laura in Mexico, when I had an opportunity to tag along with Laura, who was tagging along with the parents of a childhood friend of Rafe’s — Jack and Sandy — long time friends of a Huichol family. Laura and I met up with Jack and Sandy at night in the Guadalajara airport and from there we drove to the town of Tepíc, capital of the state of Nayarit just north of Jalisco. This is Mexico-central where the landscape alternates from rugged canyons and sierras to soft rolling fields with endless rows of blue agave — the plant that produces the heralded Tequila. The Huichols don’t live in Tepíc, but do come down from their villages in the sierra to buy goods in the local hardware stores and supermarkets, and also sell their artwork — a mixture of textile and bead work that is very colorful and quite pretty to look at. Mid day we left Tepíc for our host family’s settlement set back 10km or so off the main road. After a bumpy ride in our capable front wheel drive rental car we pulled into the village. Instantly the car was surrounded with kids, but after they all came and said hello to Jack and Sandy and met us they went back to their business of playing and hanging out. A little girl called Brisa proudly showed Laura and I the family pets, a pair of falcons found as babies. The male bird, obviously was used to Brisa, cooing gently when she walked up and not really paying too much attention when she yanked on his tail a few times, as if he were the family Labrador. Brisa’s mom yelled out from the kitchen to leave the bird alone, and later she came over to feed these impressive predators their daily meal of raw meat. Eagles (same as falcons to the indians) have important symbolical meaning in Huichol religion as they reside in the sky and their feathers impart special powers to the shaman.
Preparations for the festival were already under way when we arrived, and at night, the first ceremony kicked off and we met Joaquin, patriarch and budding shaman of the family. This was Joaquin’s first year solely conducting the Fiesta del Tambor, and his powers as a shaman and confidence of the family had yet to be garnered. The ceremony had been complicated as well by a family strife between Joaquin and his brother (who lives 20 yards away) much to his mother’s discontent. Notwithstanding his internal stresses Joaquin welcomed Laura and I and expressed his joy at us sharing the ceremony with his family. Chanting and some early offerings occurred, and the beating of the drum and the stoking of the sacred fire commenced. We were invited to participate and made offerings of corn and chocolate to the altar. We also placed corn in the fire, an important symbol for the Huichols, and throughout the night, shaman Joaquin would shake his feather-clad prayer wand called a muwieri from the fire to the heavens and back while mumbling prayers and apparently having deep exchanges of some sort. A young bull had been brought out during the day and was tied on a string nearby quietly grazing whatever he could reach. Jack clued us in that the bull was to be slaughtered by knife at some point late in the night. At one point the whole party got up and gathered around the bull, now a little spooked by the sudden attention and probably wondering what we wanted from him. As Joaquin chanted the group passed around the ceremonial knife that we all flashed to the chosen bovine. As I showed this animal its tool of imminent death, I couldn’t help but notice the knife seemed kind of shiny and cheap, more of decoration quality, but I guessed it would have to do the job. The group moved back to the fire and the drum, and the bull went back to grazing. Laura and I vowed to try to stay awake for the slaughter, but I went to bed not a 100% convinced I wanted to watch. I, in fact, did not get up, but was awakened in the night by a long protesting mooing – a swift death it was not.
The following day was marked by a ceremony involving the young children of the settlement. The children perform this spiritual voyage the first seven years by shaking their prayer rattlers for hours while the Shaman goes around and performs some rituals on them. I was impressed how these young children sat still on a chair in the sun for so long without much protest. The night held some more chanting, and fire, and drumbeating though the energy level wasn’t quite what it had been the day before. The heat of the daytime ceremony and the continuous praying and ceremony leading had left the shaman and his troupe exhausted.
The final day, a Sunday, made me think of Christmas. It was a day where the extended family and village friends gathered and exchanged offerings and gifts. Joaquin’s brother also came, and it was clear this was an emotional healing for both of them. Everybody received a portion food offerings and took them to be blessed by Joaquin. The food we ate consisted of squash, elote (corn), and jerked bull. the corn was dry and chewy but very tasty, and the squash tasted delicious. The woman had also been brewing a corn beer called tesguino, a wild-fermentation, acidic, and mildly alcoholic beverage that looks like café con leche. Most of it was hard to get down, but all the women came around with their bucket (as in the plastic rubbermaid kind) and spooned out a teacup’s worth expecting you to down it. I was sure I would have some dire intestinal effects following this force feeding, but all turned out all right in the end.
At the end of the weekend, I felt truly privileged to have had the opportunity to spend time with such a gracious group in their special time, and felt very grateful for our new friends Jack and Sandy’s who shared so freely their garnered knowledge of the Huichols. Thank you both, and Laura for letting me tag along!
You can read more about Huichols here:
From Moab, we made a quick stop in Grand Junction Colorado to drop Scott off at the airport, and then continued on headed toward Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. The road to Zion is beautiful and takes you along beautiful parts of Utah where the desert gives way to the forrest, and then turns into desert once more. We happened to roll through the Escalante National Monument area whilst the Aspen where dressed in booming yellow fall colors — a gorgeous sight.
Chris and I spent a rainy night in Bryce Canyon, but were rewarded with sunshine the next morning. We proceeded to walk down into the canyon along the Queen’s Garden trail — an easy path with quite a few hikers on it, but we found it well worth our while. Bryce Canyon is so unique, there really isn’t a bad photo to take. In just about any light condition the colors really pop. I tried to shoot some lightning at sunset, but alas, that is a tough proposition and I did not get a capture. I found it a fun activity though much akin to fishing, and I will try again in the future.
On we rolled to Zion National Park, where the rain let up initially, and we enjoyed a sunset hike to Angel’s Landing — a somewhat perilous hike with rewarding views looking down the majestic Zion Valley. The park’s names nearly all are biblical and Mormon references, and that seemed apropos as the place feels heavenly. The following day we had several options on the table, but Chris had a hankering to hike The Narrows — a famous slot canyon hike popular in summer (it was now fall), and I was certainly interested in checking it out as well. To tackle the hike, we were recommended to rent drysuits and some special canyoneering boots, as most of the hike is spent wading through the river that formed the slot canyon. The only hitch in our plan was that there was rain in the forecast for the afternoon, and flash floods are a real threat in slot canyons. The lovely girl at the shop assured us we would be fine as long as we got out of the canyon by 1pm. That seemed doable enough, so of we went. The hike was marvelous,and very unique. The dry suits turned out to be a smart decision, particularly in case something were to go wrong, and we were forced to spend some extended time in the canyon. All turned out fine even though the rain did show up creating a dozen waterfalls on our way out of the canyon. By the time we were covering the final quarter mile or so, the water level had risen noticeable and we had to swim some parts we walked before. I can imagine if we had stayed in much longer things might had gotten sporty.
When you’re cruising through the desert, you come across some interesting pieces of Americana — Ghost towns, lone structures in the middle of nowhere. They seem kinda creepy at times — cars parked, but no one around — gently bubbling meth labs, but no cooks in the kitchen…
This trailer reminded me of the one in Kill Bill 2 where Uma and Daryl Hannah duke it out, until someone loses an eye.
So, basically, the original motivation for getting the bus was to go explore southern Utah and environs with the underlying ambition to eventually take the bus to Baja for kitexplorations. It took a while to get there, but at the beginning of October I finally made it to the colorful south of Utah. The area holds a slew of national parks, national monuments, and various other classifications protecting this incredibly interesting and geographically varied part of the US.
My friends Chris and Scott joined me for this part of the trip, and we picked the city of Moab as our base of operations, planning on visiting Arches NP, Dead Horse Pt. SP, and whatever else we had time for before we had to drop Scott back at the Grand Junction airport. We ended up having a blast in this veritable outdoor playground. We hiked up to Delicate Arch, got lost in the Fiery Furnace, and engaged in various other adventures in Arches. Outside the park we amused ourselves with stand up paddling the Colorado River (even some Class .5 rapids), and mountain biking the fabled Slickrock trail above Moab — a global classic in mtb trails. We managed to finish all these treacherous feats without personal injury or loss of limb though I’m afraid my rear wheel will never quite be true again…If you go to rent a bike for Slickrock, I would recommend a full-suspension bike with 26″ wheels — not a 29’er hardtail, but anyways.
Having these guys on board was the a great testament to German RV design, as we camped for five days with three adult males fitting inside a 34 year-old, 15 ft vehicle. I think everybody was comfortable (especially me in the penthouse) though longer than this would become a challenge. We had a fantastic time all together, and I was excited to share some of the kitebus chronicles with my friends.
Here’s a video of Chris showing us the ropes on Slickrock:
It is a given that at least once in his or her lifetime every American aspires to visit Yellowstone National Park — the oldest of all National Parks signed into to law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The draw to come here are all the animals that move through and live in this large area as well as the interesting landscape and features formed by geothermal activity. The holy relic is of course Old Faithful, the geyser of all geysers. There are in fact many geysers in Yellowstone as well as various sorts of holes in the ground bubbling steam, hot water and noxious fumes. It’s kind of a marvelous mystery land, in particular for a certain breed of microbiologist who study thermophiles or organisms that love hot environments. I know this because while waiting for the “Vixen” geyser to erupt two German travelers sat down, one being a microbiologist who had been at a recent thermophile convention nearby (nerd!). Susi taught me some basic stuff about these fascinating organisms, and we hope she will be able to characterize some hypothetical samples that may or may not have been collected after an eruption.
The park was quite cold while I was there with temperatures dropping down to 28ºF (-2ºC). Campfires kept us warm, but sleeping definitely required proper gear. Every morning the water in my glass would be frozen as well as my olive oil….brrr
In the northern part of Montana hugging the Canadian border lies Glacier National Park. The park actually has a Canadian counterpart, and together they form Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park — a Northern Rockies gem. I have wanted to hike here for years under encouragement of my friend Hayley whose parents live in nearby Kalispell. Hayley’s engagement party was the perfect excuse to start an extended stay in the area.
I visited various parts of the park, some more touristy than others, and while everyone should (and will) visit the Going to the Sun Road, I was directed to the East side of the park by Hayley’s mom (and Glacier Park expert) Velinda for the prize hikes in the park. The longest and most beautiful hike I did was a double header totaling a breathtaking 16 miles. The trail I took — Iceberg lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel — takes the hiker along Glacial valleys, lakes, alpine meadows, and wildlife habitat home to Grizzly bears, Moose, Bald Eagles, Black Bear, Rocky Mountain Goats, Bighorn sheep, you name it. I did the hike in brand new shoes, resulting in my feet being out of commission for two weeks due to heavy blistering on my heels, making me wish I ‘had’ worn my Vibram five Fingers instead…
One of my more precious memories was paddling with the SUP board on Lake St. Mary following two Bald Eagles around, and later watching a large Black bear feed on some shrubs. Surrounded by this majestic landscape and wildlife it is hard not feel humbled and fortunate. There’s a gorgeous French film from the eighties with fantastic cinematography that was filmed in this area: L’Ours, or “The Bear”. Check it out. “The Crown of The Continent” moniker comes from the fact that Glacier feeds three major North American watersheds: The Columbia, The Missouri/Mississippi, and the Saskatchewan thereby contributing water to The Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Hudson Bay.
When traveling through the Oregon-Idaho-Montana corridor I believe it is imperative one reads at least part of the Lewis and Clark journals. This expedition — brainchild of Thomas Jefferson and executed by the two dapper captains — is one of the great American Tales. Mr. Bielicki, my high school history teacher, told our class the stories of the wilderness and Sacajawea with such enthusiasm as if he were there himself, and I was always curious to see this part of the country for myself.
Finding the right book isn’t easy as there are many abbreviated and interpreted versions of the journals. I ended up getting the Bernard DeVoto edited version written in the fifties. This edition does not include the entire journals, but close enough to feel as if you are along for the expedition on a day by day account. Devoto garnered some respect as evidenced by a patch of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area bearing his name. L&C’s chronicles are impressive, hilarious, and quite accessible even in the original writing. With some regularity there are encounters with Native Americans, Grizzly Bears, and other interesting features. They really didn’t have many dull moments. The men, in particular Clark were misspellers of fantastical proportions finding seemingly endless ways to spell thing like “Seouex”, Sacajawea or “brackfast” etc. etc. and proving you don’t have to know how to spell to write a great work. Pick up a copy for yourself when you travel their path.
Heading out of Hood River was heartbreaking. The wind was cranking, my friends were staying for a good while longer, and when I shipped my kite gear to Florida, a tear may have started to form in my eye. On my final day, Curt and I constructed a roof rack for my honey bee (new moniker for the bus). Felix came by and offered a software coder’s point of view on the subject, and between the three of us (i.e me) the job turned out road- and bus-worthy. The total sum for the materials (one 2 by 4 and four eyebolts, two beers) was less than $10 and the project was completed in one afternoon. That included picking up my new Stand Up Paddle (SUP) board that the rack was built for. We ended up going out for my send-off in town enjoying some of Oregon’s finest live Bluegrass. When we stared out the window of the bar about 2am, we realized the trees were moving…hmm it’s windy. May have to do a little final session! On borrowed gear and under the cover of darkness (new moon) We proceeded to kite out of the familiar event site, and managed to return to shore without injury or death.
I set out the next day with four hours of sleep and drove straight to Hells Canyon where the Snake river North and eventually joins the Columbia. It is dammed in several spots and provides power for both Idaho and Oregon. I took advantage of the smooth water between the Oxbow and Hells Canyon Dams to go for a paddle with my new toy, going for swims, watching the fish jump, and taking in the view. Further down past the Hells Canyon Dam, the river is left to run its course, and the resulting rapids draws kayakers, river rafters, and they even run a jet boat for part of the river. I did a short hike along the river , and swam in some of the milder currents. I made a note to come back for the spring melt some time and float down the rapids — seems like it would be fun…
Ah, at last, the promised land of milk and honey, complex IPAs, and Elysian winds. I had been trying to reach this place the entire summer, and by beginning of August finally achieved my goal. Summer in Hood River is pure bliss with warm days, cool nights, and a beautiful strong breeze blowing most days. There are lots of outdoors activities to partake in: The Dirty Fingers Bicycle Repair Shop Thursday group ride (with free keg of quality brew after), kiting off the sandbar with your friends, or paddling around on a SUP board — the fun just doesn’t stop. I have to admit I didn’t take all that many photos, as I was too busy doing other things…
There is also a whole sub-culture of van dwellers, and I have to thank my friend Tanya for showing me the ropes of the lifestyle when I first arrived. On several occasions locals told me they first arrived in HR in their windsurf or kite van and never ended up leaving…Let’s see if I make it out 🙂
Some final preparations over Fourth of July weekend had me ready to hit the road at last. I set out northbound on PCH, hoping to catch some wind along the way. I didn’t find too much wind to kite with, but a steady headwind seemed to be there cutting down the gas mileage of my breadbox to below 18 mpg. I visited friends in the Pismo/SLO area and continued on, taking my time, but trying to reach San Francisco with some expedience. Four days later I arrived in this marvelous city, and got to enjoy all the bay area has to offer for a wondering, wind-loving hobo. Lots of time with friends, good coffee, heaps of wind, and a thorough check-up of the local green tech scene. It was neat living on the Haight (in a bus man!) and cruising around the Castro, Berkeley, Panhandle…So many places to explore! I never thought it before, but this is a place I could end up living!
Here is a drawing one talented fellow made of the scene near my friend Tony’s house at Buena Vista Park:
I continued on and met my friend Chris at Sherman Island, a kite spot everybody said I should check out on the Sacramento River Delta. Sherman did not disappoint. Chris and I ended up spending a week there with the wind building from steady to nuking through the week. I was also dog sitting Kodai for this week, and it felt like a blessing to get to spend some more precious time with my old friend (14.5 years old).
I continued on, and spent some amazing days among the Redwoods vibing in with these magnificent trees, the tall ones standing near 400 ft tall, and up to 600 years old. I visited both Humboldt Redwoods State Park along HWy 101 and Redwood NP near the Oregon border. Both parks are spectacular, with the latter being more humid and oceanic, and therefore having more undergrowth etc. I enjoyed some great mountain biking in both parks. In Redwood NP, I nearly ran over a black bear on a downhill run, and stopped to watch him scamper up a large redwood. Those guys can climb! In seconds he was 30 feet up. Do not try to climb a tree to get away from a bear. Bribe them with Huckleberry pie instead…
Continuing on I visited several spots on the Oregon coast, but for some reason didn’t take much photos (though kited several spots). One of the spectacular spots where I did not spend enough time was Pistol River — I vow to return.
Remember Kevin and Kristine‘s rig? This gem made a lasting memory, and when I knew I was homebound somewhere in February I started researching getting my own rig like it.
The concept seemed reasonable: so as not to shock myself with immediate reintegration into Western society I would get one of these and hobo around some more, and finally do the road trip to Southern Utah and other gorgeous scenery in the Western US I always wanted to do, but never had time (damn you successful career). It eventually could serve as a most excellent Baja mobile as well. Such was the concept, and I started researching from the Far East, so I would hit the ground well-prepared when returning to SoCal.
The choices of VW Campers seemed abundant in the Southern California area when I was investigating from the Philippines, but by the time I got to LA, pickings were slim. I ended up buying a pretty beat up bus from a young guy who didn’t seem to know more about cars than to put gas in them and turn the key, but, hey, I found a running bus albeit with a minor oil leak.
Of course, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where there’s a minor oil leak, there can be a massive oil leak. The story is long, but the engine was blown, the transmission was whining, and I was pretty much ready to douse her in some gasoline and bid her adieu. The exit strategies were limited though, and the cheerful plaid interior and commingled layers of orange paint on her dented exterior would melt even the staunchest car-hater’s heart. So, with moral and facility support of my good friends Dan, Holden, Jason, Karen, Chase, Peter,… I set out to fix her up and now have a reliable classic to show for it. I stil went ahead and got the AAA Platinum membership, just in case 😉
One of the key features installed:
Boy, the heat and dust of Cambodia really wore me down, and the longing for smooth winds and tropical waters was unbearable. A name of a kite spot in the Philippines had come up several times, and when my British kite crew from Mui Ne said they were going there next, I decided I would check it out as well and commence the Pacific island hop back home to California.
Boracay is somewhat buried in the Philippine islands. From Manila it’s an airplane, bus, and ferry ride away, but once you get there you don’t really need to move. I ended up accosting a fellow kiteboarder in the terminal at Kalibo international, and we hitched a ride together to the ferry spot in Caticlan. The ferry over to the cay is a hoot — riding in wooden trimarans with bamboo outriggers. The ratty lifejacket everyone is handed when boarding made me think of the steady flow of deadly ferry accidents in this part of the world (2009 , 2008, …). The crossing is not very long though, and possibly swimmable 🙂 On Boracay, I ended up staying at the same place where my fellow kiter Birgit and her sister had reservations (I don’t do reservations) — Surfer’s Home on Bulabog beach about 20 meters form the water. The next morning waking up in my new digs, I couldn’t help but be ecstatic. The wind was cranking, the sun bright, and kiters were slicing through gorgeous blue water. Time to pump up!
Boracay has an interesting split personality for an island. The east side of this skinny cay has a coral-reef-protected beach called Bulabog. It is a kitespot and offers nothing for the typical beach goer — the beach is narrow, and the wind is strong. The west side of the island sports White Sands beach, and as the name implies it has a gorgeous, broad white sand beach of postcard quality, but it also sports a tourist as grave as you can imagine with even an air-conditioned Starbucks on the sand beach path. There are also lots of clubs with DJs suffering from AVCD (Asian Volume Control Disorder). This disease is serious, and I noticed it in all SE Asian countries I visited where evidently people don’t realize there are volume gradations between ‘1’ and ’11’. Anyway, White Sands Beach is a must-do for a sunset cocktail, but I only ventured over there a handful of times during my three-week stay.
The diurnal wind pattern is somewhat unusual in Boracay: it’s windy in the morning, dies down around noon, and then picks up again in the afternoon. Being a morning person, this pattern suited me fine, and accommodated a mid-day nap and afternoon/sunset session — Paradise indeed. Besides making pals with Birgit, we ended up having a fun and very international crew to kite and party with. I also finally ended got to do a full-moon session — awesome fun and an adrenaline rush to be sure.
It seemed a little ironic, but the cheapest way for me to get from Phnom Penh to the Philippines was back through Saigon. Vietnam would also be the easiest place to sell my beloved Minsk, as the market for a smokey two-stroke is limited in Phnom Penh…I had kind of a fun time cruising around the city, getting some errands done and hanging out on the đường Bùi Viện or Bui Vien street — a backpacker street with lots of hustle and bustle to observe while sipping a cold Tiger beer. Cold was key here because the heat in late February was no joke.
Besides selling the Minsk one of my top priorities was acquiring an authentic car horn for my future car project when back in the US. There is a veritable plethora of horn sounds in Vietnam, but I had a specific one in mind that I particularly enjoy — it goes sort of: Bow-wow-wow-wow-wow-ow (fading in volume). I found the perfect one after going to several stores and audio testing them — unthinkable in the US, but the sales person gladly hooks them up really quickly to blast the neighborhood. I ended up spending a hefty 600,000 VND (negotiated down only 50,000 VND) or ~$30 for my Dasearon Magic Digital Horn, but I had buyer’s satisfaction for sure:
The other purchase I needed to make was a golf bag for all my kite gear. The one I originally bought in the US had given up the ghost somewhere around Mui Ne, so I went on a quest with the Minsk. I located some golf stores on the outskirts of town, but spending $150 on a golfbag in Vietnam (that’s 3 Million Dong!) seemed ludicrous. On my horn hunt I noticed some vinyl awning shops, so with the help of Google Translate, a friendly Vietnamese girl who spoke some English, and my isometric drawing skills, I commissioned a bag to be made. The lady of the house was very friendly, and thought it was cute I was trying to talk her down on the price, and she pinched my cheak and smiled as she agreed to 800,000 VND ($40) to make my bag (one day turn around time). The end result was great, though I had designed the bag too large — it could have fit about three people’s worth of kite gear! Oh well — my flight was leaving that night, and too big is better than too small…
I was able to sell the Minsk handily for $300 — $50 more than I had paid, but I did put new tires and overhauled the wheel bearings on it. Not a bad deal — my little Minsk had served me well for 3000km of riding!
For the rest I got out fine. My cab driver hit a couple on a moped on the way to the airport, and got a flat tire as we pulled up to the terminal, but, hey, that’s just a regular day in Saigon.
So Long Viet Nam — thank you for your unparalleled hospitality!
Here are some photos I took on a full moon night on Bui Vien
Cambodia is mostly hot and flat. Riding on my vintage, two-stroke, Soviet monster for hundreds of kilometers on end was less enjoyable than some of the other riding I had enjoyed in the region, and that is when Dylan proposed we go back to Phnom Penh via pickup I readily agreed. No shenanigans though, that was my only requirement. “Let’s pay a premium, so we get a truck all to ourselves”, I said. We agreed and found a guy who worked at our hotel (or at least hung out at our hotel) to arrange a truck. The very beat-up toyota showed about two hours late and a gang of Cambodians proceeded to lash our bikes on the bed. The truck was pretty cramped, but what the heck — we’d make it for the 300 km drive that would hopefully take around 4 hours. Our main aim was to be in Phnom Penh before sunset mostly for safety concerns brought on by some stories Dylan had heard in Thailand…something to the effect of “lots of AK 47’s still floating around”…
That didn’t end up working out. We proceeded to cruise around Siem Reap for the remainder of the day loading more stuff onto the pickup truck including enough lumber to build a house, various pieces of heavy machinery, an ice cream merchant’s cart (he was evidently seeking better opportunities in the capital), and a young Cambodian mother with a few of her kids. Initially I had grabbed the passenger front seat, and Dylan had the bench seat –well the seat was actually missing, but that general area at least. Alas, this was not to last. The driver explained in his best English that normally he gets three to four Cambodians in the backseat alone, and we hadn’t paid that much, so both of us needed to fit in the bench seat (general area). We grudginly cooperated. I tried to raise a stink, but that was going nowhere, and our bikes were firmly committed and underneath a metric ton of junk. Oh well — here we go. Two more guys squeezed in the front seat bringing the total number of passengers to about ten, and right at dusk we set of for Phnom Penh.
The ride went smoothly enough except for early on a near collision with a pedestrian. I had visions of the young mother and her offspring seated on top of the pile of junk to come flying over the front of the car during the resulting swerve at 80 km/hr. During our first food break, the driver explained he only drove at night to avoid the police. I guess there was after all something illegal about his rig, and there are less bribes to pay after dark. We did make several stops in seemingly random places just to hand some cash to a police “officer” standing by the side of the road. Our final bribe we paid as we rolled into Phnom Penh around 3 am collected by a young boy working for the police officer standing by the side of the road. I learned during the trip that about half of what we paid to travel had actually been commission to our truck broker, and between the gasoline and the bribes, I guess the truck guy runs his business on a tight margin.
It was kinda neat rambling along the Cambodian countryside at night in slight physical discomfort, paying off cops, glimpsing into the Cambodian households lit up by the family’s solitary CFL bulb, and eating the truckstop food. Both Dylan and I were a little apprehensive the whole time about being robbed by our friendly transporter, but in the end we got to sigh in relief when we got back on our familiar bikes near the Psar Thmey Market.
The main draw for Cambodia tourists is the Angkor Wat temple complex. The complex is huge and covers more area than the nearby town of Siem Reap. It’s impossible to do it all in a day, but that didn’t stop Dylan and I from trying. The more recommended route would be to take a three or four day pass, and take a day off halfway through. The whole experience can be a little overwhelming, and after touring for a few hours it is easy to become “templed out”.
That said, it is an amazing place and a must-see when touring SE Asia. Dylan and I did a pretty good job beating the tourist, starting our visit the first day by visiting Ta Prohm at sunset, right before the park closes. The following day we did a marathon run broken up by a nap in the heat of the day. The place is photogenic beyond words, and it’s certainly not difficult to take a postcard photograph.
Phnom Penh sits on the West bank of the Tonlé Sap right where it merges into the Mekong. There are no mountains nearby and the the whole area is protected from the various rivers by levees and interconnected with bridges and ferries. When I arrived in late February the weather was hot and steamy leaving you pretty much incapacitated in the middle part of the day. Many tourists skip Phnom Penh and beeline it to Angkor Wat — the famous temple city near Siem Reap another 300 km further into the country, but I had talked to my motorcycle travel buddy Dylan about meeting up here to join forces and explore Cambodia with our bikes. Dylan was still in Thailand wrapping up some repairs to his Suzuki, and would have to take the long road to Phnom Penh due to a recently flared border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. I decided to relax and take in the scene.
The vibe in this city is much different than Saigon where I was just before. Even though there are several modern buildings including some skyscraper-like, things don’t look as clean and organized on the whole. The older district is full of overpacked dirty streets with coffee houses and markets. The Cyclo taxi is still in use by the locals (unlike Vietnam where it primarily is used for carting tourists) which speaks to the different economic situation in the two countries. The market photos I shot primarily at the Kandal market — a very picturesque place and busy with locals buying goods around dusk. I’m posting a lot of the Cyclo photos because I think they are fun, and it is neat they are still in use.
Many of the streets in the old district reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans with similar architecture of overhanging wrought iron balconies and terraces where one can enjoy a sweet cold ice coffee. I bought a counterfeit copy of The Quiet American from a street peddler and spend several afternoons watching the world go by and being a flâneur along the bank of the Tonlé Sap and finally feeling like I had found the Indochina of old.
Sidenote: Slackage has struck with regard to my beloved travel blog. Though I took these photos and visited these places a while ago, I intend to play some catch up and get the blog’s chronology more or less back to present time. I actually visited Cambodia at the end of February of 2011.
I left Saigon early in the morning, having a little ice coffee before hitting the road to fight the already sweltering heat and sharpen my senses a little for the treacherous ride ahead. When you ride in the country in Vietnam things are somewhat predictable, as well as in the core of the cities. The main arteries leading in and out of the city, however, are deadly circuses of multi-lane traffic on roads that usually only have two lanes. The right of strongest prevails, and my Minsk is no match for a big bus or truck barreling down on me on the last bit of road left — better to run off into the ditch and take your chances there.
My only goal for the day was to cross into Cambodia (Kampuchea in Khmer). I read some conflicting accounts online that crossing the border was anywhere from impossible to “a breeze”, so with all my gear strapped on(including the kites and board) I rode straight to the border in the most optimistic of mindsets. The Vietnamese border was a breeze to cross with the only harassment a chatty border official asking me about my Minsk (“Min-car goood. How much you pay? $250? Ooooh that’s very expensive…”). The Cambodian official smiled a little when I already knew the correct fee ahead of time — they are infamous for making up the fees to whatever sucker price they can get, and other than a minor extortion attempt with exchange rate on the Vietnamese Dong they were correct and whisked me through. I realized I had enough time to make Phnom Penh by daylight — a reason for excitement, for there is not much in the way of towns with lodging between the Vietnam border at Bavet and Phnom Penh city.
A few things struck me immediately after entering Cambodia — the traffic went to virtually non-existant, and Bavet is a full-on mini-Vegas of the region including its own Winn Casino (yes, spelled like that), but without the glamour and bling of the real Las Vegas. My ride took me to the banks of the mighty Mekong river, the last barrier to cross before a leisurely 60 km to Phnom Penh. The crossing was quite simply amazing — I was huddled next to a bunch of other scooters and motorcycles bringing whose owners were bringing their wares into the capital to sell. The boat was a seaworthy-enough looking ferry and the ride was swift. My main concern was the three live sows strapped to the scooter next to me, the largest of which had grown quite ornery and her bottom parts were facing me…
Mui Ne is a small fishing town located in the Vietnam province of Phan Tiet, not too far from Saigon. The word means sheltered cape in Vietnamese and the bay behind this very windy part of the world is where the town is located. Windy, is of course the reason that this guy arrived here. The kite is on in the northern hemisphere winter, and after spending time sitting on my gas hog, I was ready to get back into shape and enjoy the ocean. I don’t have many photos of our kiting (because I was kiting, duh), but overall, Mui Ne ended up being a wonderful spot. I stayed at a kiter hangout hostel, with a high quality ping pong table (great warm up before getting on the water), and cool people.
My favorite kiting on Mui Ne was doing the down-winder to Phan Tiet. Dodging multiple lines of fishing nets while cruising through overhead shore break on Malibu beach wasn’t very relaxing for me, so I usually stuck to the main Mui Ne bay, partly as well out of sheer laziness.
Here’s a map from buddy Enzo’s website http://www.kitesurfbarcelona.com/
Riding into Hoi An after two weeks in the Vietnamese hinterland was quite the shock. There were westerners everywhere! Having not seen one of those other than my team mates I found I was now staring at westerners. They really look quite different from Asian people, and for the first hour I couldn’t take my eyes off of them . There was also loads of western foods available — the first time I indulged since arriving in Vietnam, really. In one place, I ordered a brownie with vanilla ice cream, and found I couldn’t finish it. It was so rich and sweet compared to what my body had become accustomed to that I had to ask for help from the person sitting next to me.
Hoi An is quite touristy — Unesco added it to the world heritage centre list because it is “an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.” (from the Unesco website). It’s simply gorgeous and a great place to sit and have a coffee and catch up on some reading. That’s exactly what I did.