Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Now "Meredith" Andrepont Adventures Abroad:)

As Nathan has had to return to the real world, I guess I am now responsible for blogging- I will do my best.

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

huddling at the summit



Mt. Kinabalu

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

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

Bali: Lovina Beach and Padang-Padang


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 cafĂ©. 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

A few more pictures

The first picture shows the volcano from the plains that we were hiking across while the second shows Chris in the middle of his ash shower. I don't have many pictures from the top because I was sure the ash would ruin my camera given the chance. It was a spectacular morning.

Gurung Bromo

I'll make this quick. We are in Lovina Beach now on Bali but overnighted in Cemoro Lawang on our way from Yogyakarta to Lovina a few days ago. What's in Cemoro Lawang you ask? it is home to Gurung Bromo, a volcano that is still active (the national park around it was closed because of an eruption a few months ago). We woke at 2am to make the trek to a mountain on the outskirts of the crater. Because we are near the equator sunrise was at 5:20am so we figured we should be there at 4:30. Lonely planet said it was a 2hour walk thus the 2am wake up. LP was wrong. We made it there in a little under an hour which means we were the first ones up far. We arrived at the top a little before 3:30am and enjoyed the night. The sunrise, with Bromo in the background was spectacular and one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. After watching the sunrise we hiked back to our homestay and took a nap (all before 9am). At 10:30 we went to the national park, hiked the 2km across the crater plains to Bromo. We ascended the 253 steps (that have been washed out from volcanic ash) and witnessed the sounds of the grumbling volcano. It was chilling to listen to. We endured the volcanic ash that was raining from the sky (and which I am still, 3 days later, washing from my hair) to enjoy the sights and sounds of this phenomenon. Enjoy the pictures; I took about 120 but will only post a few that I think are the most stunning (although its hard to decide).


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Our newest friend.  It is amazing to watch them move through the jungle.

Bukit Lawang, Indonesia

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.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What I've Been Up To:

 Bangkok and Koh Phi Phi, Thailand: Penang, Malaysia: Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba, Indonesia

Thailand: The last week or two has been extremely hectic.  I rendezvoused with a high school friend of mine in Bangkok in late May.  Chris and I will be traveling together for the next month or so.  After arriving in Bangkok we took in the sites around the city (Loha Prasat and the Grand Palace) and became aquanted with the cities many forms of public transit.  The first day to get from the airport to a guesthouse in the backpackers district we were on a skytrain (overhead train), a regular train and a public bus.   I think each different mode was a step down in class as we began on an air conditioned nearly fully automated train and ended on an bus that looked like it has been doing the route since 1980 and it looked to me like there never was any glass in the windows.  I guess that’s what old AC was.  The Grand Palace was very impressive with the architecture and vibrant colors.    From there we headed to the reclining Buddha which is massive standing at (or I guess I should say laying) 15m tall and nearly 50m in length.  We walked along the river between the two places to take in the sites.  It was cooler by the river and fun to watch the river taxis in action.  The brown color reminded me of something from Willy Wonka however far less appealing.    Later that evening we hoped an overnight bus from Bangkok to Krabi .

The Bangkok to Krabi bus was an adventure in itself.  We boarded the bus at 6pm and were told we would be in Krabi at 6am.  At 8:45 we were sitting at the Bangkok trainstation waiting for who knows what after 1 or 2 loops around the city.  At midnight we stop for a bathroom break and snack and everyone heads to bed upon returning to the bus.  At 4am the bus stops and the driver tells a few passengers to get off because this is their stop (apparently they weren’t going to Krabi).  I fall back asleep.  At 7am the bus stops on the side of a road with a clay field and everyone is quickly ushered off the bus (we are definitely not in Krabi).   The bus pulls away quickly and we walk to a travel agent shack a few hundred yards away.  There we are told to wait 45 min for a mini bus to Krabi.  In those 45 min we find out that a Canadian girl on our bus had $300 stolen from her while she was asleep (a bit creepy) and that we are in Surathani (about 2 hours from Krabi).  A minibus does finally show up at nearly 8 (think underpowered pickup with 2 benches in the back) and takes us across town to another bus.  Now this is 14hours since we started our journey and 2 hours after we were told we would arrive.  This bus doesn’t pull out until 9am and the 2 hour drive easily becomes 3 when you are picking up locals and all of their goods and produce.  We arrive at Krabi a little after 12pm—18 hours after we left! Unfortunately we have to go straight to the ferry to catch the boat to Koh Phi Phi or wait 3 more hours.  It isn’t until 4pm that we are able to sit down for a bite, nearly 22 hours since we had last eaten! 

We were on Koh Phi Phi for 2 nights and after the first night we met up with Meredith.  The beach is beautiful and the island is made up of a beach in between to karsts (like those we saw in China).  We enjoyed doing a bit of swimming from one beach to the other or hiking up to a viewpoint on the mountain.  Whatever we were doing we were enjoying some banana shakes throughout the day.  After the 2nd night we took the ferry back to Krabi and hopped on a bus for Penang, Malaysia.

Penang, Malaysia: Like no place else. 

The bus ride actually composed of 2 mini bus rides, one to a border town and another across the border and the remaining 100km to Penang (and island off the coast of peninsular Malaysia).  It was uneventful except for the border crossing.  The driver tried to tell us we had to pay him 10 baht (30 cents) because he was going to get our passports stamped.  We said no, then he said it was because it was a holidy.  We still said no, but then came immigration.  When Meredith and I were talking to Thai immigration officials (at separate windows) he came and spoke to them.  After this the immigration officials told Meredith she overstayed her visa (she didn’t) and then mentioned some other things.  When officials got involved she (and everyone else on the bus) handed over the 10 baht.  But not me.  Apparently the immigration official didn’t understand which bus I was on because they didn’t demand any money from me.  At least we put up a fight, we don’t want to make these scams too easy for them. 

The island is situated in between China and India and therefore has been a trading port for quite some time.  Therefore, on the island you have many different cultures: Malays, Chinese, Indians, Acehs (an area of N. Sumatra in Indonesia) and many others including some Europeans from the Dutch trading days.  Our first day we went to a wonderful museum about the city before heading to the waterfront to see the old fort.  The two most impressive sites we saw were a restored Chinese mansion that was inhabited by the family until the 1960s and a kongsi (clan house).  It was amazing to see the furniture and jewelry in the mansion.  The opium beds and 2kg gold anklets were the highlights.  Beside the obvious Chinese models hanging around.  There was a photo shoot going on in the house with a Chinese couple wearing the appropriate dress.  It was a site to see in the mansion.   After the mansion we visited the Khoo Kongsi (Khoo Clanhouse)  which used to be the center for business, religion and other community matters for the clan on the island.  They are a successful clan and their kongsi shows it.  The art was stunning but even more impressive was their geneology book—updated every 3 generations to begin with (now each generation) it stretches back over 1,000 years.   The book is massive! The clan started outside of Fujian, China but came to Penang in the 1800’s.  It is still active today. 

We spent part of the second day at Penang National Park doing a quick jungle hike.   It was fun to see the different plant life and the density of it all.  At the end of the hike was a meromictic lake and the beach.  A meromictic lake is one that has both fresh and salt water in it but they don’t mix.  It was fresh water on top and salt water underneath…it makes for a unique ecosystem.  Unfortunately it is only separated for about 2/3s of the year and just looked like a normal tidal lake for us.  A dam is naturally build by the tides and sand each august and is again torn down by the tide each may.  When the dam is up it allows for the water to separate.  We also visited the snake temple and Kek Lok Si temple.  The snake temple is just as it sounds, a temple with snakes (yes live snakes, some of them are even pit vipers) at the alter.  Other than the snakes the temple was pretty unimpressive.  This is in direct contrast to Kek Lok Si temple.  It is really more of a complex of temples each beautiful and wonderfully crafted.  The most impressive part about the temple is the statue of a local healer that sits at the top and is 30m high!  It was quite a site, and a hike up there!

The best part about Penang has nothing to do with temples, jungles, or houses—it’s the food.  With so many different cultures living together you have such a great selection of world class street food.  We had lunch in Little India and the mutton curry and masala tea was just as good as I remember from India back in Feb.  Later that night on the street near our guesthouse we had rice noodles and shellfish for dinner.  Another night, again on the street, we had rice noodles with brown sauce and shrimp—perhaps my favorite meal I’ve had overseas and it was only $1.20.  The next morning we caught a flight from Penang, Malaysia to Medan, Indonesia.  We wanted to take the ferry (4 hours across) but it went out of business a few months ago.