"Not all those who wander are lost"

Beach

Tonsai Life

The road goes on forever and the party never ends

-Robert Earl Keen

 

I found out the great thing about my unplanned Thailand trip is that my visa on arrival only lasted 30 days.  That meant I needed to either leave or make a visa run.  My initial plan had been a month in Tonsai then some time in Laos and Chang Mai, but Tonsai was just too good.  I talked to a bunch of people and from what I could gather I just wouldn’t be able to do the same kind of climbing or find partners as easily in those places.  I decided I would at least put off the decision for another couple weeks by making a visa run.  Luckily for me I had a couple friends, Jonas and Martin, who were going to do the same.  Thankfully Jonas was in Tonsai for his eighth year and knew the ins and outs. We got up early to catch the first longtail to Ao Nang, found this tourist passed out with a pile of Chang bottles, and rented a car to drive down to the boarder.

We put down our deposit of 10000 baht (about $325) and headed off.  I’d just like to mention that $325 was considered to be able equal to the value of the car and it was a bit much if anything.  It looked like miniture version of the old, small, boxy suzuki SUVs.  We squeezed in with one person having to sit sideways behind the front seats.  We bobbed down the road bouncing all over the place on the lack of suspension.  It quickly became clear that Jonas had serious experience in Thailand; his driving was almost as crazy as the locals.  In some unknown town where nobody spoke any English Jonas managed to order us some fried rice for lunch and we continued on our way.  Countryside, small cities, bamboo huts, bulls in the back of small tucks, and even an elephant on a flat bed truck zipped past as we headed south.  Shortly before the boarder the limestone cliffs began appearing again and we slowed to rubberneck the virgin faces and talk about what looked climbable.  We weaved our way through traffic, around dogs, and made it almost to the boarder sweaty and stiff from the tiny cramped car.  Several hundred yards before the Malaysia boarder was a street market so we couldn’t drive further.  We parked and walked the last bit to the boarder, handed our passports to the officer, walked around the building to the window on the other side, picked up our passports, and back to the car.  We were legal for another 15 days.  We turned around and headed all the way back to Tonsai.

 (Onsighting Wake and Bake, 7a+)

A few days later a friend and I went to The Keep.  We did a few great climbs and realized the tide was out.  Why not go to Low Tide wall?  We thought it was perfect timing to get in a couple pitches before the time came in and it got dark.  Turns out we were wrong.  We watched the tide come in a bit, but didn’t realize how much of our trail back was being flooded until we turned the corner to head back.  Looked like we would be waist deep the entire walk back to East Railay.  We took about 12 steps then it got dark too.  The only headlamp we had was Terri’s very dim one.  To top it off, my ultra-thin flip flops were falling apart and impossible to walk with in the water.  With the tide out its usually a 15 minute jaunt back to East Railay then monkey trail (up and over a small rocky hill between Tonsai and Railay) is the only obstacle back to Tonsai.  Barefoot, in the dark, at high tide…we slogged through the sharp coral and rocks and didn’t make it back for two and a half hours.  With sliced toes and sore feet I went directly to get some food I’d been wishing I had all day.

 

(I loved this spot.  It reminds me of Jurassic Park)

(Monitor Lizard)

 


The Best Day of Climbing

Climbing is like sex, when its good its good, and when its bad… its still pretty good.

-Unknown

 

Thanks to the diagnosis of an intoxicated Korean doctor, some Spanish friends with extra cephlexin, and several days of rest I finally began getting better.  It was more than just my ability to function without pain, my checked backpack unexpectedly arrived, and I began meeting a bunch of great people.  Finally able to walk without pain up to my knee I got down to climbing.  Life became a blur of constant climbing: roll out of the bungalow, breakfast at Chicken Mamas Restaurant, climb all day, dinner at Chicken Mamas, hang out at Sawadee, sleep, and repeat.

(Exploring the lagoon)

(Notice the Thai guy in the tree.  He wore a climbing harness to solo up the 50ft tree, then just uses his rope to lower the coconuts before soloing back down the tree)

(Chicken Mamas!)

Within a couple weeks I even started sending.  It was a great feeling and really one that was new to me.  To line up projects and actually begin knocking them off was something that I had never really done before.  Then, on it happened…The best climbing day of my life.

Previously the best climbing day of my life was one of my last days in Smith Rock when I finally sent Heinous Cling (5.12a), which was my first 12 in the US, after working it for a while then went and crushed Panic Attack (5.12a) on my first real attempt (not quite an onsight since I tried it a couple weeks earlier on TR at the end of the day), and to top it off the hot water in the showers finally got turned back on.  It was a great day.

March 23rd though, was something else all together.  In the morning I sent Tiger Queen (7b/5.12b)  which I had been working on for a while, then we headed over to Cat wall in the afternoon where I sent Kitty Porn (7b+/5.12c) my first ever 12c, then gave April Fools (7b/5.12b) a try and sent it too.  My first ever 12c, and two 12b’s (only had done one or two before too) in one day!  All of a sudden I felt like I didn’t know why I had ever NOT been climbing 5.12, it wasn’t all that bad after all.

Oh yeah, and I cut my hair into a mohawk…

 


Christmas in the UAE

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.

-Anthony Brandt

 

12/24

Christmas Eve!  Andy, Stan, and I headed off in the morning to get the breakfast special at Fibber McGee’s.  We walked into the Irish pub and looked around.  Nobody else was there.  We hung out there for a few hours eating breakfast and hanging out trying to wait for the metro which doesn’t open until 2pm on Fridays (Islamic day of worship).  Eventually Andy and Stan decided to cab it back to EA so they would be there in time to get cleaned up before going to church with Michelle (recent RIT grad who does student services at RIT Dubai now).  I decided that it was a better use of my time to head to the the organic grocery store I spotted.

Organic Foods was, well, organic and therefore great.  I loaded up on peanut buttery goodness before heading to the other grocery store to pick up a few things I was missing.  While I was checking out I noticed a guy wearing the traditional garb and a thought dawned on me.  This was the first non-Caucasian I had seen in either grocery store.  Whether it was the stores or the time/day I don’t know but somehow I had stumbled upon the whitest place I have been in Dubai.

I was sitting in my room enjoying my traditional Christmas Eve burrito when one of the guys from Harriot Watt walked in and asked if I wanted to play soccer with them.  The Harriot Watt team had a friendly match against a Chinese team staying at EA at 7:00.  It was 7:04.  I stuffed the second half of my burrito in my mouth at once, grabbed my cleats, and ran out the door.  It was the first time I had played a full 11v11 game of soccer since high school.  The game was fun, quite high scoring (6-7 at the end I think) and in general not the prettiest game.  There was a lot of dribbling through, or into, people and a lot less passing than there could or should have been but it was still fun.  I even scored a left footed goal that soared over the keeper and hit perfectly in the top corner.  I was pleased:  both about the game and that my burrito kept going down despite all my running.

 

12/25

Christmas Day!  There were no presents, stockings, or trees when I woke up.  It’s hard to feel Christmasy when there’s no snow on the ground and no family around.  Instead Stan, Andy, and I headed out in a rental car to Snoopy Island on the east coast to go snorkeling.  Driving across to the east coast in the morning was quite the experience.  The road we had chosen to traverse the country was a two lane road with fairly wide shoulders.  The vehicles on the road however didn’t seem to know this.  Trucks drove half on the shoulders going 70kph while cars weaved around each other in the center of the road, some times reaching 4 vehicles abreast.  Despite the interesting and often scary driving we made it there without too much trouble and parked at a public area in sight of the island.  The only problem was we still had no snorkeling gear.  We walked across the beach to a nearby hotel to inquire, but they only had kayaks.  We kept walking down the beach hoping to find somewhere to rent snorkeling equipment but eventually got yelled at by locals to not go further (they didn’t want us near their families and wives).  Deciding that we needed to go down the beach more we headed back to the car and cruised down the road a little more.  We found the hotel that we had been told had snorkeling gear, but once we found out it was 70dhs just to get on the beach there before rentals we decided it wasn’t worth it.  We jumped back in the car and drove 10 minutes back up the road to Dibba to look into buying our own gear.  After driving straight through town without seeing anything promising we stopped at a tiny little general store and found some masks.  Good enough.

With our minimal gear we headed back and stopped at a public beach (next to the correct hotel this time).  We had the interesting choice of gear when we crossed the broken Heineken bottles to the beach:  Andy with his goggles and camera, Stan with his goggles and snorkel, and me with my goggles and banana.

Anxious to get out Andy and I crashed into the water and began to swim.  A ways out we realized that Stan was still struggling with this snorkel.  We tread water and waited.  After what felt like quite a while, since I was treading water, Stan decided he didn’t want to swim out the island.  Unfortunately I had pawned off the banana to him since he could fit it in his pocket.  I decided to head back and get it.  I made it back to the beach, retrieved the banana, shoved it in my pocket, and headed back toward the island.  I made it about half way again before I noticed the banana was no longer in my pocket.  Curses.  It had floated away just after I started swimming, but I wasn’t going back for it this time.  After swimming against the tide the entire way, I finally made it out to the island and climbed up on the rocks for a break.  The island was really just a large crumbly rock with an occasional little plant and frequent piles of bird droppings.  Being me I had to climb the rocks.

That was probably not the best idea.  Most of the island was very sharp fractured rocks that came apart if they were pulled on.  Combining this with my bare feet made my little climb up to the top take much longer than expected, but I made it to the top.  The way down was no easier, especially trying to avoid getting my hands, and especially the open wound on my finger, in bird poop.  It was equally sketchy, painful, and bad of an idea going back down but I succeeded in getting down safely, but not in avoiding bird poo.  Once I was finally back down I noticed a sign around the corner from where I started with a picture of the grim reaper on it.  It said something along the lines of “Danger, climbing could result in death” in about 6 languages.

I rejoined Andy in the water chasing around fish around the coral reef like sharks with brain damage.  Andy delighted in swimming at every interesting fish he saw with his camera outstretched in front of him to try to get pictures.  I contented myself with looking at the interesting ones and swimming through schools of fish trying to touch them.  Eventually we headed back to the beach to rejoin Stan.  The tide had turned so once again we were fighting it.

Still early in the day we relaxed, napped, and read on the beach for a while before moseying back toward Dubai.  Along the way we stopped at one of the many roadside stands and bought mangos, papayas, pomegranates, and several other unknown tropical fruits.

We made it back to EA in time for me to make my traditional Christmas dinner:  burrito, mango, and pomegranate.  I skyped with the family and watched everyone open presents.  It was great to be able to still be there and see the goings on at home.  We even took a family picture, me included.

We are indeed a strange bunch.  After many hours of skyping they headed outside and I headed off to bed.


Fun in the Sun

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.

-Tim Cahill

 

12/16

So far this week has been fairly unspectacular.  Things are starting to become normal here.  S-W were classes, senior design, hanging out, a little soccer, and that fun stuff.  Today Jimmy, Stan, Mike W, and I headed to Jumeirah public beach near the Burj Al Arab to hang out and enjoy the sun while everyone else headed to the mall.  We got to the beach not too long after noon and enjoyed soaking in the sun and basking in our 80something degree weather.  I brought my soccer ball that I got at Carrefour (for AED17 which is less than $5) and Stan and I kicked it around for a while.  Eventually a group of kids came over and asked if we wanted to play a game so we did.  We had a great time playing beach soccer despite the sharp shells and bits of broken glass on the beach.  Eventually it was too hot running around and we jumped in the water.  The water here is the saltiest I have ever been in.  I can open my eyes in a chlorinated pool without it bothering my eyes, but this salt made them burn.

We were planning on heading to RIT to meet people and go to the Global Village (just what it sounds, every country has a little “village” with stores of food and goods) so we headed out just after 4.  We got to RIT just in time for the bus…only to find out that it had to go all the way back to RIT to pick up the rest of the group since they couldn’t get a taxi (still kind of confused).  Global village turned out to be lots of fun.  There was great food everywhere.  Booths with rugs, fabrics, scarfs, spices, and every kind of random junk you can think of.  Yemen was one of the best with tower shaped out of curry powder, bundles of cinnamon sticks (really bundles of sticks, they were 2 feet long and bundled like you would see fire wood), and wide variety of honey (even some only for married people because it’s supposed to be an afrodisiac).  There were performances all over the place and even some carnival rides.  Unfortunately we had to head out at 9 so some people could catch connecting buses, but we all plan to go back.

After a bit of hanging out in the common room Raunak (one of the kids from the other side of the hall who goes to Harriot Watt) headed over to the labor camp (cheap housing for primarily Indians who send money back to their families).  I had visited the labor camp with him several days ago and he mentioned there was a barber shop that does shaves for 5dhs, but I had just shaved that day.  I set out with the mission to get my first barber shop shave.  We got to the barber shop but the lights were all out and it was closed.  It was only 11:00pm, they had no reason to be closed.  We started to turn to leave but noticed another barber shop a few doors down, it was go time.  It was an interesting experience for sure.  The labor camp is not really a bad area, but when someone has a razor blade against my throat it just makes me a little nervous.  The weirdest part was having a random Indian guy rubbing my face (lather, aftershave, something else, and powder).  All went well enough since I made it back to tell the tale with only a couple nicks.

Big plans ahead, climbing in 5 hours, Ugly sweater Pot-luck Christmahanukwanza Party tomorrow night, and Abu Dhabi for the FIFA Club World Cup Saturday.


Dubai Part Deuce

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

 

12/2

It’s UAE National Day which meant nothing to us besides we didn’t have to do anything.  We all decided to figure out the metro system and head to the beach.  There’s a metro stop right by Etisalat Academy (EA) but unfortunately it hasn’t been opened yet so we had to take taxis to the Al Rashidiya station which isn’t too bad in a group since taxis are so cheap here (this taxi ride is usually about 16 AED which with four people is just over a dollar per person).  The entire metro system here is brand new so everything is in perfect condition, clean, and looks nice.  On a side note, most things here especially in malls and buildings is immaculate because there are lots of people paid to clean all the time.

We got off the station we were told to and wandered in circles for a few minutes at the station until we decided since it was our second day in the country we should just get more cabs instead of trying to walk several miles to the beach.  The cabs brought us to the entrance to the park, which we found out later is the only spot we would have had to pay to get in the park.

We decided to get some food before the beach and went across the road and go food over there.  As we were contemplating our lunch options there was an Emirati discussing, not very happily, something with another guy.  I saw the guy start walking away and thought that was it but a minute later I noticed the Emirati start following him.  The pace quickened as the Emirati chased the guy down the sidewalk, through a parking lot, and down a side street.  Most of the time this wouldn’t have been anything special, but since they were both wearing sandals and running at a light jog it was hilarious.  Andy and I hesitated for a second wanting to help whoever needed it, but didn’t know who to help or want to get arrested for messing with an Emirati.  While I’m not sure if you actually can get arrested for messing with an Emirati, you basically can.  In any traffic accident the non-Emirati is always at fault.  If you hit a camel in a car (they all belong to Emiratis) it could end up costing $70,000.  Anyway, not knowing what to do we did nothing.  So we continued inside and split up to go to our restaurants of choice.  I had a delicious quinoa, beet, pumpkin, spinach, and sunflower seed salad.

We headed into the park and spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach and swimming.  When it started to get dark we tried to find out about fireworks we had heard about to no avail.  Not wanting to go back yet we walked down the main road and started seeing all sorts of crazy things.  The first was a group of kids riding bikes and running around in the road trying to get cars to stop in the road.  Then came cars with decals of the UAE colors and the Sheiks face.  Pretty soon the 6 lane road was stop and go traffic as people cruised up and down the road.  People were running from car to car spraying silly string in the windows.  Kids with roller blades skated the center line spraying everyone.   Trucks had been tuned to backfire so they sounded like gunshots.  And since this is Dubai it was done mostly in SUVs over $50,000.  There was even one Porche Cayenne stretch limo.  We hung out and watched this for quite a while before tracing our way back to the metro and back to EA.

Friday (12/3) was another day off since it’s the beginning of the Islamic weekend and classes still hadn’t started.  We all needed to do some shopping so we headed to the Deira City Centre Mall.  It was another enormous mall (Dubai is all about the huge malls).  We wondered around for a while and found out there was a performance at 6:30.  We waited around for it and watched the traditional Emirati dance, music, and weaving.  Carefour was our last stop so we could get food before we headed back to EA.  It’s similar to Wal-Mart only not as global or evil.  Our timing couldn’t have been worse: it was a holiday weekend at 7PM on the weekend.  It was a mob inside the store.  After fighting through trying to find food I gave up on half of it and bailed.  The most important lesson of the day and actually in all of international travel:  ALWAYS BRING PEANUT BUTTER.  They had some, but it was Jiff and wicked expensive.  I still had a bag that was 12lbs underweight which could have been my PB supply for 3 months.  Finding good peanut butter is now one of my highest priorities here.