Thursday, November 24, 2011
Much to my dismay, in order to visit Tibet you have to be on an organized tour. After countless hours on a painfully slow internet (well I might have mentioned before, the internet was not slow- there were 50 Chinese kids playing internet games at lightening speed, however G-mail is unbelievably slow due to the filters/ sensors or whatever else the Chinese government does to it) I arranged an 11 day tour through Tibet to the Nepal border. I was extremely luck, I was able to join a Portuguese couple's tour; they not only helped decrease the cost of the tour, but also increased the fun significantly. I enjoyed Lhasa as much as I did the last time, maybe even more this time. Because it is winter time, there are many more Tibetans in Lhasa since there is no work for them on the farms. Therefore, there were thousands of traditionally dressed Tibetans spinning their prayer wheels and doing their pilgrimage around the temples and Potala Palace! Not to mention, there were hundreds of Tibetans in front of the temples prostrating themselves for hours on end!! It is hard to describe, but believe me, it was a beautiful sight.
After 4 busy days in Lhasa seeing many monasteries and a few cups of yak butter tea, we headed towards the Nepal border. Although there were many long days in the car, the scenery was breathtaking! I never knew there were sandy deserts in Tibet! We also passed turquoise blue lakes and rivers, went through 5,000 meter passes and gazed at Mt Everest and many other huge mountains. We spent one night at Mt. Everest Base Camp, but before you get too excited let me remind you that it is a major tourist attraction and it was not nearly as dangerous or difficult as you might think. We were able to ride in our Land Cruiser all the way up to the Rongphu Monastery Guesthouse. From there, for $5 a night, I had a perfect view of Mt Everest from my window. However, the guest house is 7 km from the actual base camp (5,200 meters elevation), again we were able to drive the whole way on a gravel road!! Despite the fact that it was so easy to get to, it was still amazing. I cannot explain how massive Everest is, is simply dwarfs all the other mountain around it. The next morning we again drove up to Base Camp to see the sun rise on Mt. Everest. Since China is all on the same time zone, the sun doesn't rise until 8:30 so at least it wasn't too early a morning.
The border crossing was quick and easy, the time change was the hardest thing to get used to! Although all you do is walk across a bridge into Nepal, the time changes 2 hours and 15 min! We decided to dive right into "local Nepal" and take the public bus to Kathmandu. Now that I can compare it to Mongolia, it wasn't bad at all!!! (Although my Portuguese friends did not feel the same way:)) Now that I am here in Kathmandu I am enjoying lots of good food and most of all good bread!!! Heading out not to meet with a trekking agency to organize a 3 week trek around Manaslu and the Tsum Valley and from there I will hop on the Annapurna Circuit again and hopefully be going through Thorang La Pass (5, 400 meters) Christmas day!!
Hope you're doing well and when I get on a computer that recognizes my memory card I will post a few photos!! Happy Thanksgiving!
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
back and camp on it....it was worth the wait. We were a group of 4,
including a Chinese girl. Wow, having a Chinese speaker with you
certainly facilitates everything. We were able to navigate through the
bus station easily and then negotiate a fair price with the minivan
driver to take us to the Great Wall. Furthermore, the minivan driver
was able to inform us that the section of the Great Wall we wanted to
go to was closed. Instead he took us to a different section and I was
able to fulfill my dream of hiking along and camping on the Great Wall
When we started our walk, it was cold, cloudy and rainy. Although some
of my group members were upset about the weather, I actually enjoyed
it. It was only a light rain and it gave me an almost unreal feeling
of being on the Great Wall. With the mist and clouds all around and
not being able to see any modern strcuctures, it was easy to imagine
what it must have been like years ago when people were building it.
The rain stopped after a few hours and as dark approached we decided
to make camp. We were able to set up our tents in one of the watch
towers and make dinner. Before I went to sleep, I went out of the
watch tower in hopes of seeing the stars, not only did I see a clear
sky full of stars, but also 2 shooting stars. What a way to end a
night on the Great Wall!!
I woke to a beautiful sunrise on the Great Wall and clear sunny skys.
Of course as we walked closer to our destination we were also getting
to the tourist section. I must have passed over 500 people in the 3
hours I walked in the tourist section, quite a difference to in the
day before when I saw no one else. Nonetheless it was spectacular.
I am currently in Xining, China getting ready to spend a week or two
on the Silk Road towards Kashgar before heading to Tibet. I will try
to updated again soon.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
civilization!! Since my 57 hour bus ride, things have certainly only
gotten better. I relaxed in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for a few days to
recover and then went on an organized tour to central Mongolia and the
Gobi Desert. First of all, let me say an organized tour is luxurious!
It was run through the Golden Gobi Hostel and the owner kept saying,
"remember, this is not a luxury tour." Well, I guess he hasn't taken
the bus from Olgi to UB recently or done his own self sufficient trek
for 11 days through the Alti mountains in Sept, because, believe me,
compared to that it was certainly a luxury tour!!!!!!!
The tour was delightful in that there were only 6 of us in the back of
a Russian van, as opposed to the 8 of us in the back of a jeep during
one of my journeys in Mongolia. Although there wasn't extra room,
there was at least enough room for all of us. Due to the vast size and
poor roads of Mongolia, we spent a lot of time in the van. However we
either stayed in nomads' gers every night or camped. I got to do a 2
day horse trek through central Mongolia, boy am I glad it was only 2
days! Being the inexperienced horse rider that I am, I was happy to
get off the horse and walk the last 2 days! While trekking, we stopped
at one nomad's ger who had a large herd of yaks. I got to try my hand
at milking a yak! Luckily no one was dependent on me milking a yak or
waiting for me to get a full bucket of milk, because they would still
be waiting if that was the case. It was something new and different
though and I was happy to give it a shot.
From Central Mongolia we continued to the Gobi Desert. Well, as we had
been warned, the Gobi Desert is not as spectacular as it sounds. The
Gobi is an extremely large part of Mongolia, but the sand dune part
that I usually think of when I hear Gobi is actually only 10km long
and 12 km wide. That being said, the sand dunes were spectacular. We
got to ride camels to the sand dunes, then took off our shoes and
played in the sand. In the evening we took the van 10km away to the
tallest of the sand dunes, 300 meters high. Let me tell you, it is
nearly impossible to climb a 300 meter high sand dune! You would put
your foot down, and then slide backwards. After a long and exhausting
walk, we reached the top in time to see a beautiful sunset. Luckily,
on the long drive back to UB we only experienced minor car troubles: 3
flat tires and at one point there was a long metal shaft and bulky
round thing dragging from the bottom of the van. However, our driver
was evidently used to these problems and was able to fix each one
I am now in Beijing, went to the Forbidden City yesterday and am going
to go camp along the Great Wall this weekend with a group of friends.
Looking forward to Kashgar and north western China in the next few
Saturday, September 3, 2011
I don't know how to explain Mongolia (although I do know the key board
here is less than perfect so please excuse any typos) but it is
amazing!! After nearly a week in Ulaanbaatar I have loved being out in
the country!! I took a 27 hour bus ride from UB to Uliastai. The 27
hour bus ride was actually was much better than I anticipated. There
were only few hours here and there were there more people than seats
on the bus! As the sun doesn't set until 9pm and it is up about 6:30,
I was able to see much of te landscape along the way. We were on a
"road" the entire time, although te road was really just a woren down
path through te grass lands and across a few rivers.
Although Uliastai is not a remarkable city, the countryside around it
is. I took a nigt or 2 to recover fom the long bus ride and stock up
for a trek through Otgon Tenger Strictly Protected Area. The Otgon
Tenger mountain is sacred to Mongolians and it is prohibited to climb
it. As it was gong to cost $60 to hire a car to take us the 40km to te
park, we decided to hitch-hike instead. We were on the sde of te road
for about 2 min when a man stopped. We pointed on the map where we
wanted to go and piled in, he didnt speak any english, but he said ok
and off we went. We were not sure how far he was goiing to take us or
how much it was going to cost, but we figured it was all part of the
experience! He drove us about 10km and asked for $4- a reasonable
price I think. We got out of te car and were trying to decide ow much
further we had to go to the park when again a car stopped and offered
us a ride. We were driven anoter 10km and then invited in a ger
(traditional mongolian tent) for warm milk and bread. With a happy
stomach, we strapped on our packs and headed off on foot. For the next
3 days we passed countless nomads heardng hundreds of sheep, goats and
horses, we saw wild camels wandering around the hills and saw some of
the most beautiful sunsets I ave ever seen!!! It was truly amazing and
I have loved every minute; I cannot wait to see what I will see next!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
ast the horse fair I was able to witness spectacular horsemanship. The riders would go to one side of the horse, you couldn't see them from the far side. On more than oe igation I thought the rider had fallen off because I couldn't secede him, only to see him pop up 10 seconds later on the other side of the horse. They would lean completely over to the ground abd try to pick up prayer scarves with cokes arranged to them! I also watched people shoot arrows while riding both on the horse normally and while leaning over to the one side! Lastly some riders were riding bareback. It was an amazing display of talent and the atmosphere made it one of the most memorable parts if my trip so far.
I am off now to get sone sleep before catching a bus for 27 hours to uliastai, mongolia in the morning. I hope to trek and camp and see a golden eagle festival in the next 6 weeks! I'll be away from internet for awhile but I'll try to be better about blogging when I get back.
From lijang I went to tiger leaping gorge. Did a pleasant 2 day trek through the gorge before continuing north. Saw, and walked on, my first glacier. It was a tough 4 hour hike up the mountain, but well worth it. From here, I made it to litang, the reason I came back to china in the first place. Although they wouldn't sell us bus tickets initially, we were finally able to get a guest house to purchasethem for us. they claim that the roads are too bad for tourist, but I think it is actually because it is so close to tibet and the gov didn't like tourist to get too close without being supervised. litang was an amazing town. Everyone was dressed in traditional tibetan clothes, spoke tibetan (not mandarin), and was so nice.
In the morning we headed to the horse fair. We were told to just follow the people and we would be able to find where to go. By following this advice, we ended up in a wedding procession to the temple! Watched the 5 minute ceremony and was then invited upstairs in the temple for the reception. I took a quick look around the temple but didn't want to miss the horse races so I didn't stay long. Finally found the horse races, wow. It was spectacular. - there were maybe 100 horses or so, but they were elaborately decorated with ribbons in their tail and mane. I watched as riders, all dressed in full tibetan outfits
In the morning
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Semporna is the take off point to some of the best diving in the world. I was able to stay on a small island and dive three times a day for three days!! Although I didn't get to see any sharks or manta rays or anything like that, I still had an amazing time. I saw a school of thousands of jack fish and also a grouper that must have weighed over 200 pounds! My new favorite fish is the crocodile fish. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of it, but it looks so much like a crocodile I can't help but love it. Other recent favorites are the lion fish, box fish, peacock mantis shrimp and eels. The water temperature was perfect and the diving was great.
I am now in Kota Kinabalu and spent the day lounging on a small island just a 15 minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. Tomorrow morning early I fly to Kunming, China and will make my way to Lijiang China to trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge. Malaysia has been great and now I'm looking forward to a change of scenery to the mountains!
Friday, July 8, 2011
This morning started early at the parade grounds to watch another part of the Brunei international defense exhibit. although it wasn't the same as our 4th if july parades, it wasnt bad. Thirteen different countries participated in the parade, including members of the US navy. Following t the parade I took a boat up the river to a small town to see what life was like out of the city. After a45 minute fast boat ride up the river through the mangroves I found a small quiet town with friendly people,and if course, good food. From here I will return to malaysia and hopefully experience some good diving!
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I met up with Nathan and Chris in Kuala Lumpur for their last 2 days abroad. We had an excellent tour guide and former Bolles classmate of Chris and Nathan's, Wilson Lee. We saw the sights of KL and also a little of the night life. The boys are currently en route home and I am in the Cameron Highlands. The highlands are 4 hours north of KL at about 5,000ft above sea level. I have been to a tea plantation and seen how they harvest tea, an amazing rose garden, a butterfly garden and a strawberry farm all in the 7 hours I have been here. I was planning on doing a hike to the waterfalls and up a mountain tomorrow, but might not have time. While eating dinner at a small stall on a side street I struck up conversation with the woman next to me. As the typical local to foreigner conversation goes, she asked me what I did back home. When I told her I was a nurse she became visibly more excited. She told me she works at the health office and invited me to come see it tomorrow. We will see if I have time for my hike...
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Chris and I have been staying with Mr. Cham (the father of a highschool friend of ours) here in Kota Kinabalu. Spots are limited for hiking the mountain and are typically booked in advance, or should be. I say should be because that’s about the only way to climb the mountain unless you know Mr. Cham. We arrived in KK resigned to the fact that we probably wouldn’t be able to climb the mountain, however when we mentioned that that was something we wanted to do Mr. Cham sprang into action. Still on the way home from the airport, he made a call to a friend and minutes later we were sitting in a tour company office and booking our trip 2 days out. He secured 2 last minute spots for us from people that had cancelled and thus, without much planning we were able to climb the mountain.
We started on the 23 June with a big breakfast at a hotel down the street from Mr. Cham’s office. As we were about to hope on the bus to the base of the mountain Mr. Cham gave us 2 hard boiled eggs each “for energy on the mountain”. Chris and I didn’t know where to put them so the obvious choice was our pockets. (Note, carrying eggs up a mountain can be a bit difficult, or at least messy). He also helped prepare us by giving us some water bottles which we stuffed in our bags. After the 90km drive from KK on the coast to the mountain Chris had a little surprise: his eggs were pretty cracked leaving shells in his pocket and his water bottle was empty and his bag soaked. It was quite a way to start the 18km hike.
We did the first 6km up the mountain in about 4 hours, stopping to eat our eggs (which were wonderful to have as my stomach started to grumble). We had lunch on the side of the trail, which was fairly well covered as there was pretty thick vegetation until 7km up the trail. At the 6km mark there is a lodge where almost all the hikers overnight before heading to the summit in the morning. We relaxed and rested our legs in the sunshine at about 11,000 ft while looking forward to the morning.
We woke at 2:15am to grab breakfast before leaving the lodge at nearly 3am, nearly 30 min after the majority of the hikers left. We took off with headlamps blaring and quickly overheating in our layers of t-shirts and windbreaker. There was a traffic jam as many of the hikers were struggling with the stairs. Chris and I, driven by the fear of missing the sunrise, were constantly making quick darts around the slower hikers. 1.5km passed the lodge the stairs gave way to bare rock with a thick white rope guiding the way and acting as a handhold as we hauled ourselves upward. At this point Chris and I had separated from the masses and could only see a few headlamps ahead and behind us. It was so cloudy/foggy on the mountain that we had pretty low visibility. We reached the summit quicker than our guide expected and had an hour to wait until sunrise. We were the 3rd group to the summit and took refuge behind a huge boulder to hide from the wind. We though we may be under-dressed and therefore brought towels from the lodge to act as an extra layer. As we were waiting the wind picked up and it started to pour. We are 13,000ft above sea level sitting in driving winds in freezing rain. The night went from black to gray to bluish white---there was no sunrise. We realized that the cloud cover was so heavy that we missed out on the picturesque sunrise. At that point we started to walk around and found that only about 30 people were at the summit and heading down quickly (160 had set out for the summit that morning). We pried our hands from our gloves to take the summit pictures and scurried down. We were soaked and freezing but excited to make it to the top. After returning to the lodge we striped off our wet clothes and hoped into bed to try to warm up; 2 hours later we started our decent and arrived at the park gate around noon.
It was an amazing hike even without the fabled sunrise and one that we will surely remember. I will try to post some pictures of the hike soon.
Monday, June 20, 2011
We just finished our visit to Indonesia with a week on two beautiful beaches in Bali. The first beach was Lovina Beach on the north side of the island. It isn’t what typically comes to mind when you say Bali (no white sand, now waves, and few people) but it was the perfect place for Chris and I to get SCUBA certified and for Meredith to dive too. Chris and I took a 3 day course and are now open water certified. Day 1 was in the classroom and in the pool. Day 2 was spent on a reef that is a National Marine Park not far off the coast of Bali. We spent about 10 min reviewing and the remainder of the 2 dives exploring the wildlife. It was a new world to me. As a swimmer and a coastal resident I was shocked at how different this water experience was for me than any other I had had. We loved the reef but were in for a real treat on Day 3. We spent the third day of the class exploring the wreck of the USS Liberty. The Liberty was commissioned at the end of WWI but was primarily used in WWII as a cargo ship. A Japanese submarine sank the ship off the coast of Bali in 1942. Before it went down completely it was beached on the coast to salvage the railroad parts it was carrying. In the mid 60s a volcanic eruption on Bali pushed the wreck from the beach to where it now rests 50m off of the shore. The wreck was a wonderful combination of history and wildlife. Watching fish as they move through the gun turrets was incredible. Lovina, now passed its heyday, is pretty deserted at night. The evening after certification Chris and I went for a few drinks and, finding the places empty, decided to enjoy a beer on the beach. What did we find, the men’s late-night gambling location. On the beach, under an umbrella and with only a lantern was a group of 25-30 men playing a type of roulette. We watched for a while but could never figure out the exact rules. It was a flury of money being thrown on a numbered mat and a heavy ball being rolled on a numbered board. It was still quite entertaining to watch, regardless of the rules.
The next day we drove over the mountains (a very scenic drive) to south Bali and stayed at the well-known surf spot of Padang Padang, down the road from the even more famous spot of Uluwatu. We stayed a great place right on the cliffs of the beach. The hotel, if it could be called was essentially a porch with bamboo mats for walls. The roof straw roof acted as the ceiling which meant that the bamboo mat/wall hardly provided a feeling of privacy as it only extended to about head height. It was all we needed though as we spent the 3 days on the beach reading and doing a bit of surfing. One afternoon we went to Uluwatu to watch the experts surf the different breaks there. It was a scene. You had 50+ surfers in the water, waves crashing on the face of the cliffs, boards being snapped in half by the surf and an army of pro photographers to capture it all. It was a wonderful way to pass a few hours, a banana shake in hand and watching this surfing/mayhem from the safety of a cliff-side café. So concludes our time in Indonesia. We are now in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for nearly a week before a few days in Kuala Lumpur before returning to the States. I’ll try to keep you posted.
Oh, and I almost forgot. We parted ways with Meredith in Bali. She decided to continue on the explore some of the more remote islands of Indonesia and is going to meet us in Kuala Lumpur. When I depart for the States she will be taking over as the sole author---maybe I can get her to post something about the parts of Indonesia we aren’t traveling together…we’ll see.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Shortly after touching down in Medan, Indonesia on the island of Sumatra we were on a bus headed to the jungle town/village of Bukit Lawang. The town is best known for its orangutan feeding complex and the national park that accompanies it. It’s located along a river in the mountains and much of the village can only be accessed on foot. There are 3 bridges crossing the river to connect the two sides of the village, only one gives me any confidence when using it.
The first evening after dinner we decided to unwind in the river and cool off from a hot day of traveling a cramped bus. We went to the best swimming area we had seen and enjoyed the cool water. Soon after some of the children came for their evening cool off swam with us showing us their flips and tricks on the water-worn rocks in the middle of the river. After about an hour they started their bathing and were kind enough to give Chris and I some shampoo (single use packets of Pantene pro-V). After our swim/bath we headed to bed since we had a 2 day 1 night jungle trek ahead of us.
The trek was a blast. It was led by Eddy, who dubbed himself Jungle Eddy or Captain Eddy depending on a few things—I’ll get to that later. We trekked with 2 Australian med students and 1 kiwi med student that was traveling with them. The jungle trek was more exhausting and spectacular than I was anticipating. We were able to see a number of orangutans (and their babies) up close. It was incredible to see the way they move through the trees and build their nests. We also saw black gibbons as well as white gibbons (a type of monkey). The black ones are supposed to be quite elusive according to Meredith which I can agree with since they eluded my knowledge of their existence completely for the first 22 years of my life. After the orangutans the most impressive part about the jungle was the vegetation. We say some rubber trees (and hiked through a rubber plantation to get to the jungle) and a 350 year old tree. The trees were absolutely massive and the sun hardly made it to the jungle floor because it was so dense. That night we camped on the riverside in hut made from bamboo and tarp. A semi-permanent structure that did a great job of keeping us dry for all 12 hours of continuous downpour we experienced that night. In the morning Jungle Eddy (trading in his trousers and safari style button up for a sleeveless T and sarong) told us that the river (which had risen considerably) was impassible further up so we could not go much further into the jungle. Exhausted from the day before, our group met the news with an inward sigh of relief and relaxed by the river for the morning. Luckily we didn’t have to hike back to town because we tubed back on the river. Eddy, now sunning by the river in his sleeveless T tighty whities, had become Captain Eddy, overseeing the tubes being packed and tied with our bags. In the end we had 3 large tubes and 2 small ones all tied together with 6 trekkers, 1 guide and 2 cooks/tent pitchers/sailors. The river has rapids, small ones but still a turbulent ride, and this is where Captain Eddy shines. He is sitting Indian-style between 2 of the large tubes and yelling “Go!” when we need to hang on especially tight while somehow keeping his balance the entire time. The tubing was the perfect way to end the jungle trek, and at the end of it, when we were swimming in the river and Eddy was getting ready to go back to the office chris and I noticed something: The difference between Jungle Eddy and Captain Eddy is a pair of pants. Its not the natural surrounding as you would thing, but when Eddy is managing 5 tubes and 6 tourists down rapids while sitting Indian style in his underpants he is Captain Eddy.
Monday, June 6, 2011
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Meredith and I left Duyun on Tuesday, where we were visiting Tim and Debbie Vinzani. We took a bus to the capital of the province then caught a sleeper bus 10 hours to the city of Guilin. We arrived at 6 am and made the 6:30 bus to the vacation/backpacker city/climbing capital of Yangshuo. The landscape is characterized by the omnipresent karsts (rock mountains/hills). We spent wednesday cycling along the Li river and today cycling and swimming in the Yulong river. It had been nothing but pleasant-the weather is warm, the scenery is jaw-dropping and the people are friendly. We will definitely do some rock climbing before we leave because Yangshuo is home to some of the best climbing in Asia (so we have heard). We'll post more pictures when we have a chance but here are a few for now.
Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Meredith and I just got back from Easter Mass and are about to head over to a gathering with some of the other expat teachers and families here in the city (including childrent, there are 22 foreigners here). Sometimes its hard to believe we are in China when we are surrounded by so many other expats; it catches you off guard when you walk home from a movie night with popcorn and brownies and see all the Uigher (a Chinese ethnic minority) street food stalls and the chaos that is characteristic of even minor Chinese cities.
There were about 40 people at the service and it was interesting to see that of those 40 there were only 7 males (including myself). Although the language barrier can be a problem the parish is warm and welcoming each time we return. We even received Easter, or as they call it Resurrection Day, eggs at church last night. Here is a pic of the church (built in the 18th or 19th centuries I believe) and another of Meredith with her Easter egg.
-Nathan and Meredith
Sunday, April 17, 2011
This weekend Meredith and I set out on our own to see Huangguoshu, a park or area that has amazing waterfalls, gorges and beautiful rock formations. Its main attraction is the huge waterfall that is something like 70m across and 80m high.
Day 1: To get to the waterfall we had to take a bus first to the city of Anshun, about 3 hours from Duyun. Debbie helped us with the bus tickets in Duyun so that part of the journey was pretty easy. We got into Anshun at about 3 pm and decided not to continue on another hour to Huangguoshu because we wanted to have more time to see the place. We found a guest house not far from the bus station. This is the first time that I have had to use my very limited Chinese language skills. After this weekend I understand that limited doesn't begin to describe how inept I am. We argued at the front desk of the hostel because I felt I was being overcharged $14, a considerable amount when the room is less than $20. When I say arguing by that I mean I kept repeating "1 night, 120 kuai" in Chinese after which the staff would say something. After about 5 min we figured out that the extra some was a key deposit. Problem solved, now on to finding dinner. We headed towards the river because there was good street food around there and after having some (sub-par) milk tea we decided that we would stop at one of the many noodle shops to have a bowl (typically about$1). We walk in to one that is full but not crowded (a good sign we thought) and (because I don't know how to say any food in Chinese) we pointed to the bowl of what everyone else was having. Now when our bowl of noodles came out we noticed the bowl was garnished with certain herbs and greens—most noticeably mint. We had only heard of mint being served with one type of meat---dog. When I looked more closely at the chalk board menu I realized that I did indeed know 1 or 2 of the characters. At first I thought our bill would jump to $25 but then realized that that amount was by the pound, however, my first suspicion of the mint was confirmed. We were eating dog. This was most definitely a first for us, but I wouldn't say a last. It was a very tasty meal, especially considering that it was still only about $2 for the two of us.
It was an early morning so that we could get to the falls before the crowds of Chinese tourists show up. The falls and rock formations are pretty spectacular and Meredith and I first chuckled when there were signs proclaiming that it is the only great waterfall that you can see from 6 different points. We thought that if you've seen it from one angle then you've seen it from every angle but that is not the case. We really enjoyed being right next to the falls and especially enjoyed going "behind the curtain" in the cave that runs through the rock behind it. We were thankful for the rain jackets we bought for the trek because we were able to keep our bags dry when we went behind the falls no matter how goofy we looked with the hood on and the sleeves tied around our wastes. After the falls we wanted to go to another area of the park, a few minutes walk from the falls. We start down the road and are frequently passed by buses and taxis, all accompanied by unabashed stares but that's normal for here—we are always quiet the spectacle wherever we are. Now a taxi (the first empty one we have seen) pulls over next to us and offers a ride. He said for about $15 he would take us to all of the different areas then back to the bus station. (I gather this info mainly through finger pointing and maps, not too much from my Chinese skills). We didn't have time to do the entire park so we told him but he wouldn't drop the price. I finally told him (in broken Chinese) we don't have a lot of money and we can just walk. At this he chuckles and drops his price by half and we're off. Now the only thing of our taxi small talk that I understand is "this walk is really really far", 8km later I realize he must think we are crazy. This couple (everyone always assumes Meredith and I are dating…) tells him that they have no time but would spend and hour or more walking to the park instead of a $7 cab ride; we didn't realize it was so far. He waits for us at the park and takes us back to the bus station so we can make it to Guiyang in time to find a hotel.
At the bus station (parking lot) I ask how much and once again the driver quotes me a ludicrous price. I tell him this is entirely too expensive but he doesn't budge. We tell him we will find another bus but he says its all the same price so I say to him then we will go through a different town (Anshun, where we started from that morning) but he looks at me like we are crazy. As we are walking away he drops the price by 75% so Meredith and happily hop on the bus and we are off. (Author's note: this is what I believed happened at the time, this is not factual) When I go to pay I only had pretty big bills so I hand over more than enough. He gives me that look, like what is wrong with this guy? He hands me one of the big bills back and some change. That's when it hits me, with the regional accents (making my rough Chinese even rougher) I couldn't really understand his numbers and thus we had spent 10 minutes arguing over what amounted to less than $2 for both tickets and he didn't drop the price by 75% but by maybe 5% and then after all that I hand him almost triple what he asked for!
We arrived in Guiyang at about 5:00pm at a huge bus park (this one is much more than just a parking lot) and are unable to get our bearings. Meredith and I are standing at the street corner looking pretty helpless when 3 Chinese girls approach and ask if we need help (I guess we looked that hopeless) and then explain we can take either a $5 taxi or a 15 cent bus to the city center. We choose the bus and the girls escort us all the way to the local bus area and show us which one to get on and where to get off. These girls were such a help, without them we might never have made it from the bus park. We first try to find a guest house but the only one we could find doesn't have any rooms. We didn't look very far after that because we had business to take care of: finding Dairy Queen. We knew it was somewhere in the city center but finding it was difficult. We say a small group with DQ cups and charged at the from across the sidewalk, not wanting to miss this opportunity. The girl gives us these directions "go left" but then realizes the rest would be too difficult. She then tries a map, but decides against it and writes us a card. I am pretty sure the card says "help these crazy people find DQ" whatever it said it worked because we could stop someone and try to ask where DQ was, if it didn't work we would give them the paper. We found DQ hidden in some coffee square underneath a business building but were almost fooled by its impersonator—DU is the first thing you see when you walk it, the colors are the same, logo similar and it sells something similar to a Blizzard. After DQ we headed to the bus station to try to catch a late bus. We couldn't find the bus station and must have been looking especially lost because yet another young Chinese girl stops us and offers to help. She tells us we have to go well out of the city to the bus station but she can tell the cabby where to take us. We end up at the bus station at 9pm missing the last bus by quite a while. Without an idea as to where to sleep we allow a girl working for a guest house at the bus station to walk us to a nearby guest house. I thought it was crazy that she had to walk us there but then again I didn't expect the guest house to be in a back building in a 5-6 building apartment complex on the 4th floor that is made up of other family apartments (save this unnamed guest house). We were shocked when we walked in and the beds were huge and looked clean and there was a computer in the room! We thanked her for her help and collapsed in to bed. It was a long day but well worth it and made much more memorable by all the misunderstandings. (a note about the bus station: this enormous bus station on the outskirts of the city opened 4 months ago and combined the 3 inner city long distance bus stations that were mentioned in our book. Of course we only found this out upon our safe return to Duyun.)
I know we have been in So here is a little bit about the farm.for almost 3 weeks and I haven't really said to much about what we came here to do--- help on the farm.
The farm is run by 3E Development, and organization whose goal is to help the people of Giuizhou (the province that Duyun is in) make an independent living. 3E stands for Education and Economic development of Ethnic minority regions. Thus the farm serves both purposes giving the people of Guizhou help economically as well as helping many afford schooling for their children. The organization also provides education in farming and healthcare. For more info about this great organization please visit http://3edevelopment.com/aboutus.htm. Meredith and I are staying with Tim and Debbie Vinzani, the founders of the organization, after Rep. Shannon Erickson put us in touch last fall.
We arrived in early April, right before the corn planting season. 3E plants about 40 acres of corn each year as feed for the cattle during the winter. Now 40 acres may not sound like much but when it is done the same way the native Americans and pilgrims probably did it for the first harvest it is a ton! A quick walkthrough of the process after the field has been plowed (by a water buffalo of course). Make a hole with a hoe, add fertilizer, add manure, add seed, cover hole. Now each one of those tasks involves lugging either equipment or supplies with as you perform you task each step. I've got a few photos of Meredith working hard alongside some of the local help. As you will see, there is no way around it for the seeds, its either back breaking or doing a million squats—both unpleasant. Now after describing this you will think we hate the time up on the foggy mountain but in fact it's fun. We are always working with local friends. I say local because they are either natives of Guizhou or SC (there are 2 Clemson grads teaching English in Duyun that help out as well). Nights are pretty early since you have to turn on a generator for electricity—we normally just go to bed at 8. The water situation isn't much better. There is spring on the property but the pipe doesn't go all the way to the house so we fill buckets to bring to the house while bathrooms use rain water. Breakfast is frequently toast or eggs while lunch is Chinese style hot pot. Debbie is an amazing cook whether its western or Chinese, I believe I already said that but it's worth repeating. Hot pot is served, as the name suggests, hot. As in the wok is still on a burner in the middle of the table. Its usually chicken and veggies at the farm with a bowl of white rice in front of you. You pick what you want from the hot pot (with chopsticks of course) dip it in a sauce in front of you and put it in your bowl. My chopstick skills improved quickly with much encouragement from my stomach .
We have not been able to work on the farm as much as we had hoped (and as much as Tim and Debbie would have liked, of that I am sure) because we had a cold snap and it became too cold for the corn to germinate (and thus to plant). We head to the farm tomorrow for a few days before returning for Easter weekend and then Meredith and I plan to do some traveling around southwest China before we depart in early May.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I know it has been a while---we landed in China last thursday---but I have a few minutes so I can finally do a quick update. Meredith and I are staying with Tim and Debbie Vinzani in Duyun, China. Duyun has a population of about 500,000 while where we landed, Guiyang, has a population of 2-3 million! 3, We are in the Guizhou province in southern China. While we are here Meredith and I go up to the farm that is a few minutes outside of town (and another 2,000ft in elevation) to help with the corn planting. Tim and Debbie are aid workers in China and are doing wonderful things for the area through their cattle farm. For much of the week we are on the farm while we spend the weekends in Duyun. We will hopefully use our weekends to get around and see some of southern china and will be planning those mini-adventures in the next few days.
We are loving the food here, although I can't say that will surprise anyone. We have enjoyed a few meals out and have been the beneficiaries of quiet a few delicious meals from Mrs. V. (both Chinese and western). We are able to get many (most) western products here so I have enjoyed waffles with syrup, Oreos, peanut butter and quite a few other comfort foods. We are doing well and loving getting to know the V's and a few other ex-pats
Monday, March 28, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
We met up with some friends we made on the trek during our first day in Pokhara and they went the day before and loved it. We booked our 30 min flight yesterday afternoon and at 9:30 this morning we were in the back of a jeep headed up the mountain. The morning was beautiful for paragliding and we had fantastic views of the Annapurna range from the sky. It was like nothing I had ever done before and Meredith rates it above her skydiving experience. It was amazing to be flying among the birds and quietly soaring above the hills and lake. Here are a few pictures that Meredith took, I know they aren't the greatest but they are all we have at the moment. More to come when we get a faster internet connection.
6:30am wake up and pack you bag, this typically took about 30 min
7:00 breakfast, although it was typically late
8:00 hit the trail, we usually had between 4 and 7 hours of walking (10-22km) each day so we wanted to start early
10:00 we would stop for water, tea or bon bons (chocolate cookies that you can buy just about everywhere in Nepal)
12 or 1 pm-- roughly, whenever we got hungry again we would stop for lunch. Frequently we would try to be at our final destination at this point but that didn't always happen.
4:00 we would arrive at the village and look around for a suitable lodge, they are all the same but some with better names than others (we say such names at Yeti Lodge, Honest Lodge, Good View Hotel, See You Lodge)
6:00 dinner, which was usually either chowmein, fried rice, or boiled potatoes, after dinner we would read, write or chat with other trekkers. Listening to music wasn't much of an option as the lodges often levied at fee to use power outlets
8:00 lights out! although to be honest, we were usually in our down sleeping bags moments after dinner and asleep well before 8 pm. Considering this, 6:30 wake up every morning isn't all that early. I could use 10.5 hours of sleep every night.
So that is a brief overview of how we spent the last 21 days in the mountains
Meredith and I are finally back to civilization after 21 days trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal. We left Kathmandu on Feb 28 and began our trek March 1. We were on the trail from March 1 through March 21 and in that time we trekked roughly 230 km with 12 kg on our backs and where at altitudes ranging from 1,000 m to 5,416 m, we showered 3 times and where staying in lodges that were hardly more than plywood and it was amazing. The views were even more stunning than we expected, it was hard for us to fathom how big these mountains are until we are up at nearly 5,000 m sucking all the oxygen we can get while the peaks are still towering another 3,000 m above our heads. Trying to sum of our 21 day trek in a few paragraphs is pretty difficult but I will try to put down the interesting tidbits and stories that made our trek memorable. As for pictures, we will do the best we can but the internet cafes are pretty strict on putting USB drives in the computer so we will see what we can do.
Moments ago I leaned over and asked Meredith "how do we sum up our trek in just a few words?", without hesitation she said "Apple crumble, no oxygen, cold air, hot springs, dal bhat, mule 'patties', and wind" oh yeah, and we can't forget the mountain views. I suppose all, or at least most, of those need an explanation.
We started the trek at about 1,000 m and were hiking in quick dry t-shirts and pants and carrying what seemed at the time as an impossibly heavy pack. We were wondering why in the world we needed an all weather down sleeping bag and down jacket. Over the next 3 days we climbed from 1,000 m up to 3,000+ m and the weather was quickly getting cold. While we hiked in no more than a t-shirt, fleece and windbreaker as soon as we stopped we quickly slipped into our down jackets. As we continued to climb into the mountain we became ever more thankful of our down jackets and sleeping bags. When Meredith said cold, she meant it. After about 3,000 m we had to put our water bottles and camera batteries inside our sleeping bags to keep them from freezing at night. It got down to -8 degrees C in our room one night and was below freezing many other times. Now, to be fair it wasn't colder than -10 degrees C outside of the lodge but when you are sleeping in a hotel room that costs between $1.10 and $2 a night, I guess you cannot expect much of the insulation.
Dal Bhat refers to the typical Nepali food of rice, lentil soup, curried pickles and often a second type of curry. It is all the lodged originally served because they figured out that pizza, enchiladas and chowmein sell better than dal bhat. Somehow Meredith and I survived the trek never trying dal baht on the trail; we had it in Kathmandu and lentil soup poured on top of steamed rice is not my thing. Another reason we shied away from it was the price, it was double what we would pay for chowmein and early on the trek we learned it costs virtually nothing to make. We decided we would try not to participate in the highway (trailway?) robbery and typically stuck to chowmein, fried rice or soup with steamed rice.
In reference to the prices up in the mountains, think of it as a typical ball park prices. Things were typically 3 to 10 times more expensive up in the mountains (except the lodged, as discussed earlier). However, I am happy to pay these exorbitant prices because transportation is limited; after day 3 all supplies had to be brought up by mules or porters. The mule patties that littered the trail served as a constant reminder of how the Snickers for sale in the lodge store got there. The mules were everywhere and carry everything from kerosene to 10L bins of fried mustard oil. Halfway through the first day we gave up on trying to avoid the mule patties and just treated them like any other part of the trail.
After we passed the 3,500 m mark the breathing became noticeably more labored. I had a bit more difficulty than my sister but after a rest day in Manang and an acclimatization hike I was fine again. I felt awful the day before and was sure I wasn't going to make it through the pass another 2,000 vertical meters above. The day we went through the pass I felt just as well as I did at 3,500 m below (surprise) however Meredith was a different story. She had been a champ, feeling great the entire way until the night before the pass. We slept at high camp (4,900 m) before waking at 4:30 to cross the Thorung-La pass. I say slept but what I meant is that I slept peacefully while Meredith lay awake in down bag unable to breathe comfortably enough the sleep. We got up in the morning only to find that snow had covered the pass in the night and the guides didn't feel comfortable going across until another path was cut. 3 hours later the guides decided they would cut the trail and we followed quickly behind them. Meredith and I were so exhausted by the little oxygen our lungs got with each breath that our steps were more like shuffling. It took us 4 hours to cover the last 500 vertical m but we finally made it! now a 1600 vertical m descent was waiting for us before we could call it a day. That took another 5 hours before we stumbled into Muktinath after a long day. We feasted on yak steak to celebrate our success.
Trekking on the other side of the pass was a bit more relaxing and slow. It was (mostly) down hill and with the pass behind us we didn't have a huge challenge hanging over our heads. We also had a natural hot springs and apple crumble to look forward to. On the other side of the pass the climate is perfect for growing apples and thus the apple crumbles are delightful. We had heard of a little lodge in the town of Marpha that supposedly had the best in Nepal, needless to say we knew where we were staying: Paradise Bakery. The crumble was as good as we had heard and we ended up eating 4 slices each the first 24 hours in apple country. I say first 24 hours because after leaving the towns of Marpha and Tukuche (the apple hotbeds) we liked them so much we walked 3 hours back up the trail to stay another night and eat more apple crumble. Yes they were that good! we actually walked 6 hours out of our way to eat just a few slices of apple crumble!
I must also mention that the 6 hours were in a hot, dry riverbed with constant 25 mph winds. We had every inch of us covered trying to escape the sand but it was impossible. I was actually almost blown over several times during the walk which is quite a feeling. I would be walking into the wind when the direction would change and I would find myself struggling to stay upright. The wind was ridiculous but the apple crumble worth it.
The hot springs where the last thing to look forward to on the trek; we had heard so much about them and after many days in the snow were excitedly expecting the soothing waters. We were grossly disappointed. The 'springs' consisted of 2 pools, one luke warm and dirty, the other scalding hot and both only about ankle deep. We were thankful for the hot shower that one must take before getting in because it was the best we had had up to that point. I suppose it was well worth the entrace fee of Rs 50, or roughly 65 cents.
The views were second to none over the course of the trek and we were blessed with spectacular weather. We had only a few foggy days and they were at the end of our trek when the best mountain views were already gone. Meredith is working on making her photos available as I speak. I cannot describe how beautiful the mountain landscape was so I will leave it to the pictures. Keep in mind that the range we were hiking in/around has 2 of the worlds top 10 tallest mountains and countless other monstrously tall peaks.
It was an amazing trek and between the people and the views, truly unforgettable.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Meredith and I are doing a trek, we knew that before we landed in Kathmandu. Which of Nepal's beautiful and famous treks was the real question. After being bombarded by hawkers working for the travel and trekking companies we decided to give it a go on our own. After doing some research we decided to a heavily traveled, but no less stunning trek. We are doing a combination of the two most popular treks in the Annapurna range, the Annapurna Circuit and the Annapurna Sanctuary treks. The first takes you around the range which boasts 8,000 meter peaks (to give you an idea, Everest is 8,848 meters) while the second takes you into the middle of the range. All in all I think the 200+ km trek will be grueling yet very rewarding. If we complete the entire trek we will traverse the highest mountain pass in the world at 5416m (almost 18,000 ft). As a lowcountry boy let us just say I am more than a little concerned as to how I will fair at nearly 18,000 ft but right now I can only hope for the best. We leave for Besisahar on Monday morning to start the trek and expect to be gone about a month. We had to delay our start a day because Meredith and I forgot to extend our visas yesterday and have to wait for the office to open tomorrow, oh well, we were thankful for another day to prepare. Internet will be non-existent or at least very rare and expensive so don't expect much in the way of updates until the end. Wish us luck!
Meredith and I are traveling in Asia for the next few months and thought this would be a great way to keep everyone updated and maybe share some stories as they happen. Don't worry this isn't going to turn into a big hipster spiritual enlightenment blog. After traveling for the last few weeks through central India and Kathmandu, Nepal with family Meredith and I are now on our own. We said goodbye to the group a few days ago have since been busy enjoying the backpacker district, Thamel, in Kathmandu getting ready for a trek in the nearby mountains (more on that later). The first few days have been hectic getting to know the area and making a few friends. We met two German girls on our first night that had just returned from a trek and were staying in the same guest house. We met letter that evening for them to share some tips and pointers, upon leaving one of the girls (Dolly) mentioned that it was Christina's birthday and we should all go for dinner and drinks the next evening...of course we agreed. The next evening we learned 2 things, hanging out with Dolly and Christina is a ton of fun and dance bars are not dance clubs. After going for dinner at a fairly decent Mexican place we went looking for entertainment and Christina wanted to dance. What we found at the 'dance bar' was something closer to strip joint than a disco...we quickly left. An Irish pub, however, is always and Irish pub and there were no such surprises where we finished out the night.
The next day was full of errands getting ready for our trek, there were permits to fill out, fees to pay and gear to buy/rent. This would all have been very daunting if we had not had the good fortune of meeting Shona and her husband/boyfriend/business partner. They own Shona's Alpine Equipment but helped us with more than just our gear. They told us the spots that had quality gear they dont carry, told us how to take advantage of the local (non backpacker market) and most important of all they showed us how to pack our gear. They were a huge helping in getting us ready for the trek.
Besides doing errands we also wandered through the town, seeing the beautiful gardens and the not so beautiful burning piles of trash--We are seeing all sides of Kathmandu. I would love to upload more photos but I am having a hard time finding fast enough internet--please be patient.