"Not all those who wander are lost"

Culture

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)

 


Bye Bye Dubai

I always love coming home.  The only problem is that I have traveled so many places and met so many great people that I can’t go home without leaving another home.

-Me

 

I’ve been back in the states for over a month now, but I’ve had trouble getting myself to write this last blog about Dubai.  Part of me feels like Dubai was so long ago, even when I just got back, that I shouldn’t be writing this.  The other part of me has been hanging on to this because it’s one more thing from Dubai I could hang on to and I didn’t want to let it go.  But I’m here now and planning on finishing this.  It requires finishing one chapter to begin writing a new one.

The last week in Dubai was a whirlwind.  I had finals Monday and Tuesday (2/21-2/22) so I spent most of my time studying since I couldn’t get anyone to go climbing with me.  I finished finals with a victory over my Renewable Energy Systems final and headed directly over to Gordons for one last night of bouldering.  It was a bit sad to know that it was my last time seeing most of them and my last time climbing for a while but as usual it was a good time.  When it was time to I headed out to Barasti, a relatively renowned beach bar, to meet up with the rest of the study abroad people and some of the local kids.  It wasn’t a big surprise to find the bar pretty empty on a Tuesday night but we hung out and had a good time.

 

Wednesday was uneventful and was mostly spent editing climbing videos since I couldn’t convince anyone to ditch work to go climb.  Sam took me to Fawkies, a huge antique (and/or fake antique) store down some winding road in an industrial area of Dubai.  We spent a while just wandering through the place looking at all the trinkets and useless decorations.  I was looking for some gifts to bring home that would be nice traditional Arabic things, but found more African and Asian stuff than local.  Eventually the man who had been following us through the maze of narrow aisles began to get impatient and informed us it was 5 minutes to closing.  I eventually found a couple things and we headed out.  Despite Sam’s former experiences haggling and getting great deals the whole store was being forced by the government to move to a fixed price system so I ended up paying much more than I wanted.  We headed over to Bur Dubai for one last visit to the awesome vegetarian restaurant.  As usual, it was delicious.  I ate unknown tasty vegetarian food until I couldn’t possibly eat more.

 

Thursday.

My last day in Dubai and I still made it out to climb one more time.  Somehow I convinced Javi to take the day off to climb at Tawayan.  Before I knew it Toby was coming too then Greg and Wendy even showed up.  I was happy to finally get the new route Caracal Branch (7a+ or 7b, I don’t really remember anymore) and I nearly onsighted a 7a, but ended up taking a couple tries.  It turned into a great day of climbing with some great people.  It was bitter sweet in so many ways since I knew I was leaving in a matter of hours.  On top of that, I still haven’t climbed on real rock to this day and have barely even climbed in the gym due to numerous injuries.  If only I could have this day of climbing over again!

(Leaving Tawayan for the last time)

My flight out of Dubai was at 11pm.  We got back from climbing at 7:30pm and I quickly packed my remaining stuff.  Considering climbing gear was well over half my stuff in Dubai this a lot of packing to do.  I managed to get it all done and even ran to the labor camp to get dinner for Sam and I since she offered to give me a ride to the airport.  Of course, naturally I ended up being later than desired and arrived at the airport at 9:20.  It was a good thing I managed to scarf down my entire dinner in the 10 minute drive.  I said good bye to Sam and took one last look at Dubai before I disappeared into the airport.

The Dubai airport was crazy.  At the first security check, before I could even get to the ticket counter, I was held up for not deflating my soccer ball.  Apparently low pressure air is now a considered too dangerous to have on planes.  After being bouncing from one person to another I was finally let through since it was being checked and I couldn’t use the low pressure air to attack anyone.  I checked in and proceeded through the normal security check.  Not wanting to be late for my flight I went straight to the gate and went through a third security (yes, THREE, trios, tres, 3!) check only to discover that there was no bathroom there and I couldn’t leave.  Then of course, the plane was 45 minutes late.  It was a 16 hour flight to Atlanta and I managed to get a solid one to two hours of sleep.  On the bright side I watch 3 or 4 movies, but none was even good enough for me to remember what movie it was now.  I ran through the airport as fast as I could to make my connection, made it through customs with all my dates and spices, and got to the plane with a few minutes to spare.  After another 3 hour flight retracing the path I just traveled I reached the end of the flights; Boston.  I turned on my phone only to find that it had not yet been activated.  I cursed Ian.  Luckily I managed to find dad and we headed north.

Two hours later I dropped him off in Portland and drove the last two hours home myself, in a huge snow storm.  In total it was 33 hours door-to-door.  I was happy to see family, have snow, and when I went into my bedroom I even found a mini Christmas waiting on my bed.  It was nice to be home.

 

I thought about making a couple lists of the things I like and dislike about living in Dubai, but it’s just not worth it. There’s no doubt it has plenty of problems and likewise plenty of good things about it, but in the end only one thing matters.  No, it’s not even the climbing.  It’s the friend’s.  I would rather live in hell with my friends than be alone in heaven.  So thank you everyone for making Dubai home not just a place to live.


The Last Weekend in Dubai

Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain-tops are within reach.

-John Muir

 

2/16

After presentations for Renewable Energy Systems Javi picked me up and we headed to the Rech cave.  Unfortunately I hadn’t finished the report for my renewable energies project so I spend half the time bouldering and the other half finishing the report.

 

2/17

We got the usual crack of late morning start and headed to Hatta.  I was shocked to see the number of people at the crag:  the group of usually around 10-15 was doubled as well as another group of four.  From the top I counted 14 cars parked at the bottom.  This isn’t a big crowed for people who have climbed other placed, but compared to the scarcity of climbers in UAE it’s like the great migration.

After the approach Javi and I got started on Balrog (6c).  It was a good route with a crux reaching for a hidden hold.  Of course, I didn’t see the hidden hold so I did a several difficult moves on horrible slopers and a tiny pinch.  After that I had wasted so much energy it was a bit of a struggle to do the easier moves but I managed to pull through and get the onsight.  After Balrog Gordon and I wanted to do Thin Slapping (7a).  We began meandering that way but it was still in the sun so we waited for a while and belayed people at the Bat Cave.

(Maddie on Justice League)

(Scooter (left) on Gotham City and Javi on Boy Wonder)

(Javi on Boy Wonder)

Eventually Thin Slapping went into the shade and we moved over to give it a go.  On my very first trip to Hatta I tried the route, but had no idea how hard it was since we didn’t have a book and ended up down climbing.  Since I couldn’t get a true onsight Gordon went for it.  He made it just past where I had made it up to and struggled.  From there it’s a series of awkward technical movies through a couple crux sections the neither of us got clean.  After our attempts we were both knackered and decided not to give it another go.  Regrettably, I never made it back to Hatta to finish the route.

After the beat down on Thin Slapping I tried Boy Wonder.  It wasn’t really an onsight anymore because I had been watching people on it for a while already.  Maybe if it had been a true onsight I would have been able to do it.  As it was I made it through most of the route but twice got stuck trying to do what I thought they had said was the next move, but was actually not.  After a good wrench to my ankle which I felt for weeks after I didn’t try to do the non-move and finished the right way.

The sequence…

(Enjoying the hands free rest)

After another belay break I tried Justice League (6b) and finally got another onsight.  It was a fun overhanging route with a great photogenic start.

Everyone was winding down for the day as we headed back toward the Fridge (one of the areas).  More than half of the cars were gone from the parking area or had people meandering toward them.  But it was still light out, for the moment, and there were still draws on Spiderpig for me to get.  Javi was keen to try it too so I let him give it a go, knowing I would only have time to do it if he couldn’t.  Instead I went to the Fridge to try to get someone to belay me on an absurdly overhanging route called Chloe (6a+).  Nobody was interested.  Everyone wanted to head down so they wouldn’t have to hike down in the dark.  Despite my first experience at the crag, only wearing flip flops for the full hike, and not having a headlamp, I was still eager to get more climbing in.  Maddie obliged and belayed me up the route.  It was interesting because the first bolt was several moves in to avoid excessive rope drag so I got a spot for the first third of the route.  After that I clipped and managed to finagle my way through the rest of the overhangs to the top.  At this point the smart thing to do is lower off and have someone clean it, even if it had just been me again.  Of course, that’s not what I did.  Thinking it would seem worse if I climbed it again I ended up down climbing most of the route to get my gear since it traversed so severely.  When I unclipped the second bolt and began moving to reach the first I hit the end of my rope.  Regardless of the slack Maddie gave me I just couldn’t move any farther.  Once again, the easier option to leave it and get it from the ground was not what I did.  Instead I secured myself directly to a bolt and managed to wiggle my way to some nearly upside angle where I could reach the bolt.  Cleaning the route was officially much harder than leading it.  Even after going to check on Javi, who had completely Spiderpig, we made it down in perfect timing just before it got dark.

We headed back to Gordon’s for the world premiere of Madworld 8, barbecue, and bouldering.  Well, the bouldering didn’t really happen.  Everyone was too tired from climbing and wanted to rest up for the next day.  I, on the other hand, still hadn’t had enough so I bouldered for a bit by myself.  Hamad arrived and we watched Madworld 8.  Laughing, guffawing, teasing, and merriment ensued and continued for the remainder of the night.

 

2/18

The group consensus was a return to Tawaian.  For me that meant one thing: Fujeirah Spaceport (7a+).  Using the first pitch of the climb as a warm up Gordon and I headed straight for it.  To be honest, it wasn’t terribly exciting.  Gordon onsighted it.  With fresh arms I red-pointed it no problem.  I was happy to have finished it, but I know I should have had it my first try so it wasn’t much consolation.  I rested up while watching some of the other guys do a great looking, extremely exposed 2 pitch route called Jebel Jebel (6b).

Next I set my sights on Toby’s newly bolted and finished route called Caracal Branch.  It was a very fun route with several hard moves.  The first move that seemed hard was a big reach to a finger lock under a roof.  It turned out the move wasn’t as hard as it seemed and the finger lock was so good that I got my finger seriously stuck in it and took several tries to get it out.  Next was a seemingly impossible reach to a shark tooth shaped rock.  To my surprise I managed the move.  The route got progressively harder for the next move.  Despite Toby’s beta, I just couldn’t do his powerful pull with a foot at my stomach height and found a way to use some bad side pulls instead.  The best, or hardest actually, was saved for last.  It was an intense move that required a nearly full length lay-out using a side pull and almost no feet.  I was able to do it using a knee bar to get the edge of the hold but to fully get it I then had to slowly remove the knee bar as I inched (or millimetered) my hand into the hold.  After that it was one easy move to the top, by which point I had fallen several times and was nowhere close to getting an onsight, but had hope for the next trip to the crag.

After the two routes I was burned out, but gave Office Clerk a go for a workout.  I managed to do a different method through the crux which I had thought was going to be much more difficult and just hauled my way though the route.  I may have done other stuff, but nothing good enough to stick in my memory so I’ll say that was about the day.

(Preparing for the big crux move)

(The move was so big I went out of the frame)

 

2/19

Despite Thursday being a holiday so everyone had a three day weekend I still only got two days of climbing in.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get anyone to climb with for Saturday even though I certainly tried.  Instead most of the RIT crew headed to the spice souk for another round before we all left.  It was much like previous visits: I was underprepared, although I finally did have a list of spices and prices, and didn’t know enough about what I wanted to buy.  I got some spices to bring home and decided to forgo several of them.  We headed to an Iraqi restaurant for dinner that Andy raved about.  Sadly it was not only extremely expensive, but had absolutely no vegetarian meals.  Maybe it was a good combination though because I only got an appetizer and didn’t have to spend the full money for a dinner.  Overall I was still really disappointed that I had gone to the Iraqi restaurant instead of taking the quick trip across the river for the awesome vegetarian restaurant.  Lots of tiny violins played.  I survived.


Desert Safari

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

-Paul Theroux

 

2/15

RIT organized a desert safari as one of our trips so we stood outside the building at Etisalat waiting for our shuttle.  We piled into a big van and drove eastward out into the desert.  He pulled off on the side of the highway and we waited.  After a while some land cruisers pulled up and picked us and various other people up.  We headed down the road and into the desert in a precession of while land cruisers sliding around on the sand, driving on ridges, and pumping around on dunes.

They stopped on a steep hill, slid sideways to spray sand into the air, and swerved around to give us a good ride before stopping the long line of cars and telling us to take pictures.  We piled out of the cars and played around, took some pictures and played in the sand.

After a few minutes they wrangled everyone back into the cars and were off again.  This time it was a more direct route back to the highway.  We passed the spot where we had been dropped off and headed down a sandy road into the desert again.

We arrived at their “camp” or small city and were set free.

Andy, Stan, and I attempted to sandboard, but something about putting a snowboard on sand doesn’t really make it a sandboard or make it work.  The board stuck to the sand and we had to hop to get going on the tiny hill.  Stan managed to get off balance and tumble head over heels and a very amusing fashion, but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it.  It was especially hard to turn since I was barefoot in broken bindings.

Next we headed over for a camel ride which really only consisted of a line of two or three camels walking in a 15m circle.  Never the less, we waited in line, then waited more after people cut us (as is the way, push to the front or wait at the back forever).  Watching everyone on the camels might have been better than the ride itself.  People screamed and held on for dear life when the camels went up with their back legs first to stand up.  The ride was moderately entertaining, but I have now ridden a camel so it’s all good.  It’s actually the first animal, apart from my dog when I was really little, that I have ever ridden.  Overall though I just felt bad for the poor camels who have to endure constant gaggles of annoying tourists or get smacked by the owners.

(No hands!)

(The hard part: not getting pitched over when it goes down)

It was getting closer to time for food so we eagerly walked back to the tables in the middle of the camp.  Dinner wasn’t ready but we got appetizers which were falafel, battered and fried green & regular onion, and small fried dough coated with honey.  We had several rounds before it was time for dinner.  The hoards of people jumped up and formed lines as soon as food was mentioned.  To my surprise and great appreciation there was a massive amount of vegetarian food.  I loaded my plate with Arabic bread, hummus, tebouleh, chickpea salad, salad, biranyi rice, and three kinds of main dishes of which I only identified dal.  More unexpected than the variety of vegetarian food was the quality of it: it was actually great tasting food.  Once we had stuffed our guts with dinner we got a show.  First we got a traditional (for somewhere, not really sure where) dance where A guy wearing a large circular dress spun in circles while working with a bunch of disks.

(Spinning dude doing what he does best)

Next was a belly dance.  The lady was older than expected, but did some interesting dances, especially one where she dance balancing a sword on her head then hip.  Before she had finished our driver found us and said it was time to head out so we left and piled back into the land rovers for the ride back.


Wondrous Wall, Not so Wondrous Border

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

-Seneca

 

2/3

The week was like any other week:  dreaded classes, fun time bouldering, lots of working on senior design.  Then things took an unexpected turn.  Sam emailed me to tell me that she had a fever and didn’t know if she would be able to go to Wonderwall as planned.  Not wanting to lose a weekend of climbing and much less get stuck in the city for the weekend I made back up plans with Gordon to join them at Tawayan in case Sam’s fever didn’t subside.

 

2/4

Fortunately her fever did subside in the night and she insisted she was fine to climb.  Sam, Dayne (her jack russell), and I headed for the border.  Now, dogs aren’t really supposed to cross the border, but friends here do it all the time so they can take their dogs camping so we were trying it.  As we approached the border I put Dayne on the floor in the back, covered him with a sleeping bag, and dumped some treats on the floor.  It worked through the first part.  We parked for a minute while I ran in to get my exit stamp from the UAE.  The next part was more interesting.  We pulled back into the line of cars going through passport control to get into the UAE and Dayne decided he didn’t want to sit on the floor anymore because something was going on.  I had to hold him down by his collar as he wriggled.  We made it past the guy standing in the middle looking for anything illegal without Dayne barking and turned out of the line to head to Oman.

We made it to Wonderwall and hiked up to the cliff.  My goal for the weekend was to try and hopefully onsight or at least redpoint Exile (7b/5.12b).  It’s a stunning climb that goes directly up the tallest, blankest face of the entire cliff.  It’s 55m of tough crimping and tiny feet the entire way that is supposed to have no rests.  To top it off it requires 18 quick draws; I only have 12 including my slings and Sam’s two draws.  I started the route anyway, planning to skip draws whenever I could.  I started the climb in good style skipping the very first bolt.  After clipping the second bolt I pulled out from the initial alcove and onto the face.  From there it all blended together into 53m of crimping, technical moves needing a specific sequence, big reaches hoping to find at least a tiny crimp, pulling hard on razor sharp knife blades (they weren’t truly crimps, they were knife blades), lots of hoping my skin was thick enough to endure the holds, and a good amount of yelling as the holds cut into my fingers.  In short, it was awesome.

At the halfway point where there are chains to rappel from or to stop for Exile Light (7a) I found a much appreciated “rest” where I could hold myself with one arm at a time and my entire foot could fit on the sloping ledge.  It was more of the same after that.  About two thirds of the way up the climb I had a foot hold break off while I was standing on it.  My foot swung out from the wall and my shoulder popped as all my weight was transferred to my right arm.  I managed to hang on to the knife blades digging into my fingers and get my foot onto something.  Shoulder throbbing I continued up.  I had another point near the top when I questioned if I would be able to make it.  I could see holds up above me but couldn’t manage to get up enough to get to any of them.  I tried going up to the right, and to the left, but nothing worked.  Finally I decided to just go for it and pulled as hard as I could on holds that I certainly couldn’t hold on if they could even hold me.  Somehow it worked and I made it to the “better” holds (I use the term very loosely and only in comparison to holding onto a blank face).  It was difficult to stay focused and not get careless as I approached the top, but I made it to the top and let out a triumphant roar.  It was the first time I had ever tried a 7b/5.12b and I had onsighted it.  Grinning ear to ear I rapped down cleaning the route.

I had already completed my primary goal for the weekend so we headed over to another area that had more climbs Sam was interested in called Aladdin’s Lamp.  Sam lead Think Fast, Hippie.  I lead Relentless, a 40m long route that I managed to rap off from with a 70m rope.  I was planning on heading back over to try Border Patrol.  I quickly ditched that idea because it would be a hard route and it has a long approach.  My decision was unnecessary anyway as it was clearly getting dark too quickly to do any more routes.  Before we headed back to the campsite we scavenged for wood, cramming Sam’s car full of (very dirty) wood.  I built a fire and we cooked the usual delicious vegetarian food on the fire.  Once we were done cooking we threw a bunch of wood on the fire for light, some of which was the wood we carried for miles on our epic night walk last time, and began bouldering.

The problems were easy and the lack of a crash pad resulted in a fairly short session.  We hung out around the fire, chatted, and eventually went to sleep.

 

2/5

We woke up a bit after the sun came up.  Searching around the edge of the tent for my watch I felt water.  I looked around and noticed dew that had formed on the outside of the tent.  It hadn’t rained thankfully since we didn’t have the fly on the tent, but even dew at Wonderwall was unexpected.  We had some muesli and headed up to the crag.

(The camp site)

Our first spot of the day was Spaghetti Western since it’s close to the camp spot.  I lead one called Space Cowboy to warm up then Sam was going to try leading some more stuff.  Unfortunately her fever was catching up with her and she didn’t feel well.  She followed the route and decided she wasn’t going to climb much so we hiked back down and headed over to the other side to try some stuff I was interested in.  The first of which was Border Patrol.  The unfortunate part was that to get to it we had to go all the way past it, then hike up a chute that put us on a ledge across the middle of the cliff and hike back over to it.  The even more unfortunate thing was that Dayne was having a hard time and worrying Sam by going close to the edge so I carried him on my rope bag the whole way.  After a much more intense approach than expected we finally made it to Border Patrol.

I rested for a minute and started on the route.  I use the phrase “started on the route” loosely.  I really didn’t start much at all.  It kicked my butt the whole way.  After failing to do any of the first few moves successfully several times and seeing that it only got more difficult I decided it wasn’t worth stranding my gear on the route and down climbed from the second bolt.  Disappointed I got shot down by a 7a I hoped to redeem myself a little bit and make the hike have some point by trying Hot Rats.  It’s another 7a face climb near Border Patrol and I felt like I would have more success on it.  Indeed I did.  I onsighted the first of the two pitches that is supposed to be the hard part.   Funny enough despite the climb being similar to Exile in sharpness, when it got hard at the top when they were replaced by slopers and I was quickly wishing for the knife blades back.   I decided that since Sam wasn’t coming up to clean and I had done the hard pitch I wouldn’t bother with the second pitch.  We headed back off the ledge to do another climb or two.  I wanted to check out a climb called Twisted Reach so I walked up the ledge passes Exile.  The ledge was about 8 feet wide and not a problem walking along in my sandals until I came to a boulder blocking it.  A bolt had been placed with a piece of rope to help you climb up and over it.  I managed it in my sandals.  To actually get to the route required a traverse off the ledge using a fixed hand line.  I got half way out to the climb before I lost a sandal that tumbled down to the ground.  After that I decided it would be better to do it with a harness so I could clip in to the line, not that it mattered, the ordeal of getting Dayne there and keeping him calm was a deal breaker anyway.  I headed back for a different climb and tried another 7a next to Exile called Glucosamine.  It didn’t go quite as smoothly as I hoped.  After climbing two long routes on knife blades the whole time I couldn’t do a third cleanly.

When I was at the top of Glucosamine someone walked up to where the car was and yelled up to us asking if we had a shovel.  They had gotten stuck in the loose gravel on their way to the crag.  I told him we didn’t, but we were done climbing so we’d come try to help.  When we made it down we discovered it was Dustin, a kid who had climbed with us a couple weeks before.  He and a friend got an old Mercedes stuck when they went over a drop and bottomed out the car.  Sam found a tow strap in her car and we hooked them up.  I reved the car, they reved their car, the strap snapped.  With a new figure 8 knot tying the hook we tried again with the same result (but my knot held).  It clearly wasn’t working but a local guy saw us and came out with his hold land cruiser.  He hooked a rope the size of my arm to their car and dragged the car out without any problem.  Then he kept going, toeing them all the way out down the road and out of the loose gravel.  Our part finished we said goodbye to Dustin and headed off.

After last time I had learned by lesson about the border so I went directly to the Oman border post to get my passport stamped.  I may have learned the first time but what I learned this time was that the past is irrelevant.  Despite doing the exact same thing last time, this time they would not stamp my passport because my exit from the UAE was the day before.  I argued that they did it last time.  They didn’t care.  Fuming I gave in and drove all the way back to Buraymi.  Figuring I might as well try my luck I tried to convince the UAE to just give me a new entrance stamp.  They were nice about it, but said they couldn’t do that.  When I explained my situation they just gave me a new exit stamp and sent me off.  I went BACK to the Oman border and got a new entry and exit stamp, then BACK to Buraymi, this time I made it through.  I’ve been at the UAE border post so many times now that I was chatting with some of them and feel like someone should be buying me dinner.  Sam kept Dayne down in the back and we finally made it through the border without any issues.  All together the escapade took over three hours.  On the way back we stopped and got some good Indian food at a random little restaurant.  As usual we were probably the only Caucasians that had been in the place.  After delicious dal and rotti we continued on to Dubai.


My Life Officially Revolves around Climbing

You see things and say, “Why?”, but I dream things and say, “Why not?”

-George Bernard Shaw

 

1/24

I have had five straight nights of dreams about climbing.  Some have just been that I go climbing, which is great because it helps satisfy my need to climb during the week.  Two stood out as really crazy or odd climbing dreams.  In the first I was back in Ilam village in New Zealand and someone was throwing climbing gear off the roof of a building like candy at a parade.  Slings, draws, biners, hangers were tossed and gently landed all around or were caught out of the air by people.  I wish this was the reality.  I think some climbing companies should get together and do this in several places around the world each year.  I will preface the second dream by saying I watched a video from the Petzl website before I went to bed about climbing in Squamish featuring, among other people, Lynn Hill.  In the dream I was suddenly standing at the beginning of a large sandstone arch.  But it wasn’t what you think.  It was a perfectly flat vertical side of a hotel; the arch was the opening over the entrance to a parking garage.  Lynn Hill was climbing the arch (it had a small lip at the edge to climb) and hammering pitons straight into the flat sandstone wall.  At first I started climbing after her, but then I realized she didn’t have anyone belaying her so I grabbed her rope and gave her a belay.  I don’t know what that means, but I’m open to suggestions.

 

1/25

Back to the Rech Cave for another night of bouldering.  I had more success than the previous week, sending several problems I had worked on before.  Gordon had built a Tufa to practice for a climbing trip to Turkey in April.  While I was messing around with it doing a layback I slipped off, hit my side on a protruding hold and managed to remove skin from a long, wide streak down my ribs and giving me a nice bruise.  It’s been sore since then and oven hurts when I’m climbing or using my left oblique.  It was another good night of good climbing with great people.

 

1/26

Went to a new restaurant in the labor camp.  It was cleaner, probably better food, and we found out they DELIVER!  Delicious vegetarian (not everything there, but a decent amount) food for less than $1!  You can’t argue with that, especially when it’s delivered to your room.

 

1/27

Dan Mazur, 7 time Everest summiteer, international high altitude guide, and ambassador the Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development in Nepal was giving a presentation at the Lakes Club.  The plan was for Sam to pick me up at EA and we’d head over there to see it.  The plan didn’t quite work out.  Sam had to give a kid two make-up tests after school then got stuck in traffic trying to get to RIT.  On top of that there had been two times mentioned so we didn’t know if it started at 7:00 or 7:30.  It was after 7 when Sam made it to EA and we headed back across town to the Lakes Club.  Dubai, as always, is full on construction, detours, illogical, and counter-intuitive driving.  This was no different.  We took the directions and somehow ended up on a wrong road.  Sam knew a bit about the area so we tried to make it there but we kept ending up on the wrong side of the road without any way of crossing.  After countless U-turns and zig-zags we finally made it to the Lakes Club at 8:20.  50-80 minutes late for the presentation.  We walked in and found the presentation out on the grass by the water.  As we walked up Dan walked up to the stage.  We got there just in time, we had only missed the time for dinner and a talk by Toby (the author of the UAE guide book).

Dan showed several videos about the work that the Mount Everest Foundation is involved in, talked about climbing Everest, and showed pictures.  He told the detailed story of his first trip up the mountain.  It started by meeting an old Soviet man in a gear store in Kathmandu.  He was attempting to be the oldest (at the time) man to climb Everest.  After a talk in the store he made plans to join the man’s party and two weeks later he was on the summit of Everest.  I was jealous, I wish that something like that could still happen today.  He had joined a Soviet national climbing team during the height of the cold war, but, despite being considered the weak and dumb American, was allowed to climb with them.  He and the old man had been partnered for a summit team and did almost everything they shouldn’t do.  Instead of heading off from the high camp at midnight they waited until sunrise so they could see their path.  They made the summit at 5pm after Dan had helped carry the guys pack every time he stopped.  Just after they began the decent the guy ran out of air and passed out in the snow.  Dan tried to carry or drag him but could barely keep going himself.  Eventually he made the hardest decision anyone could make and decided to leave him in the snow and try to get himself back to high camp.  He felt like he had killed the guy:  he had encouraged him, brought food and water for him, and even helped carry his pack.  After hours of crawling in the dark he somehow made it to camp.  He informed the people there of what had happened and they managed to find and rescue the other guy who was nearly dead.  Later he found out that the guy only had one lung.  He also told about a summit attempt that turned into a rescue when a guy was left for dead by his sherpa (who even poked him in the eye to make sure he was dead).  The story made it onto national news and can probably be found online.  The whole presentation made me want to climb everest even more.


Tawayan

We ought not to occupy ourselves with endevoring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger.

-Mark Rutherford

 

1/21

The plans made Tuesday were set in motion without excessive complication.  Gordon and Matt picked me up and we headed to Tawayan.  We walked down the steep slope from the little dirt road into the wadi.  The crag appeared around the bend.  The top stretched several hundred feet up from the wadi floor, but to date climbs had only been done on the bottom section.  We warmed up on a short climb while more people from the group showed up.  Gordon and Matt worked on their project climb, a 7c (5.12d) called Echo Beach.  I headed over to a great looking long climb called Stone Pussy (6c/5.11b).  It was a fun climb that incorporated a wide variety of climbing styles.  I had doubts whether I would get it cleanly at times, but I managed to onsight it.

(Dustin on the far left on Stone Pussy)

After a break and a few belays I decided to up the ante and went for an onsight on a 7a+/5.12a called Office Clerk.  I began climbing and realized that it was more overhanging than I had realized and the holds weren’t as good as I had hoped.  I made it half way up before falling at the crux which involved a long reach to a crimp off of a bad hold with almost no feet.  On the second try I found a foot hold a waist height that I could use and stuck the crux no problem.  From there it was all about having the energy and stamina to finish it.  I didn’t.  I fell again at the very top, but once again managed it no problem on the second go.  I was disappointed that I hadn’t onsighted it but pleased that I felt like I should have onsighted a 7a+.

(Me on Office Clerk)

While I was sitting around between climbs one of the other members of the group, Solomon, climbing a 6c (downgraded from the original 7a) yelled.  I looked over in time to see him pull off a chossy bit of rock he tried to grab while standing easily at the top of the route before clipping the anchors.  It was the worst possible spot as well.  The top of the climb was run out and the entire climb was not particularly long.  As he rapidly approached the ground his foot hit the rope and pitched him upside down.  He hit the end of the rope and launched his wife belaying him into the air as his head swung only a few feet above the large rocks on the ground.  That’s why you always make sure you’re pulling on solid rock.  After that Toby, who had put up the route, added another bolt before than anchors to reduce the huge fall if anyone else does the same thing.

Once the drama was over I gave in to peer pressure and tried Echo Beach.  I made it almost half way clean before falling at the beginning of the crux sequence (the crux is much more of a sequence than a single move).  I tried several times and managed to get over it, but then couldn’t clip so I just kept taking the fall.  After several tries I gave up and decided I should stick to 7a+ and not skip to 7c.  Clouds rolled in and brought rain with them.  The crag is overhanging so we managed to hang out right at the base of the wall and wait it out.  By wait it out I mean we could still climb on Echo Beach and Office Clerk because they stayed dry.  After a while the rain eased up but the sky still looked ominous.

(Gordon on Echo Beach)

My second attempt on Office Clerk didn’t go much better than the first.  I made it through most of the route despite a finger bleeding profusely and a growing red blotch on the left knee of my pants, but eventually I just didn’t have the power and endurance to finish.  I was disappointed, but I knew if I did it fresh it would go.

We packed up our stuff and continued on toward Dibba.  I was a bit nervous about crossing the border since I only have the tourist visa, but we didn’t have any problem.  My passport just got shoved behind the others and the guard let us through after only seeing them waved in the air anyway.  We drove up through Wadi Khab Al Shamis, past several climbing areas (Damian’s Boulders, Strip Club, the Narrows, etc.).  Eventually the road winding through the wadi departed and turned to switchbacks up the side of the mountain.  We got to the top and bumped our way to the camping area.  Despite our uncertainty about camping there and possibly getting stuck in a flash flood there was another large group there already.  Rain came and went a few times as we lounged around the fire before eventually going to sleep.

1/22

We roused and ate breakfast.  Everyone was talking about the noises in the night:  apparently two loud shots followed by a short burst of automatic fire were heard in the middle of the night.  I didn’t notice them, but apparently they were what woke me up when I went to the bathroom in the night.  The guess was that it was people trying to cross the border or just shots from the military base just over the ridge from our campsite.  We relaxed and watched a herd of goats ransack the other groups campsite.  Once the goats started trying to eat their tents we intervened and drove them off.  I would have been quicker to help, but they left bags of trash sitting around and need to learn not to do that.  Once everyone was packed up we headed back down the wadi to go to Strip Club.  The plan was to meet Sam there and go to the Narrows since neither of us had gone then meet back up with people at Tawayan in the afternoon.  That plan didn’t quite happen.  We got to the parking spot to meet Sam but she was nowhere to be found.  We drove down the wadi to look for her and try to get service but neither was successful.  Everyone headed up the branch of the wadi to Strip Club and I decided to join since Sam would figure out I went up with them.

Matt was the first on the rock and when he was at the top noticed someone sitting on a boulder down by the road.  I headed back a bit and directed Sam up to the crag.  The area was only bolted in summer 2010 and it had been too hot then to get the hardest route so Matt worked on the unclimbed route while the rest of us climbed the “5” and “6a” that were more like 6a(+) (5.10b/c) and 6b(+) (5.10d/5.11a).  I managed to onsight both routes.  After Sam gave the “5” a go and got up the cruxy/bouldery first half we headed off to the Narrows.  Of course, we made it almost all the way down to the cars before I realized that all my stuff was in Gordon’s locked car.  When I had run back up he told me that they decided they were going to the Narrows soon too.

(Dave on the 6b/6b+)

The Narrows is exactly what it sounds like.  The road up through the wadi (the same we took to our campsite) narrowed down to just the width of the road.  Above was a giant slanted roof.  I decided to work my way up in difficulty and got on the 5 to start.  Snake Farm was a bit more of a real 5 than the one at Strip Club and even though it ended with a decent roof it had great holds through it.  Of course, here had been another demonstration of sandbagging and all of the routes were “fives” so for my purposes I’m using what it should be graded.  The next one was Return of the Texan Chicken, a 6a+ (5.10b), that worked its way up slippery slopers to better holds before a big roof.  The roof had great holds and made it a really fun route.  Maddie wanted me to leave the draws in it so without taking my shoes off or taking a break at all I stepped to the side and began the next route.  Donkey Chase (6b+/5/10.d) was quite similar to the previous route only significantly harder and worse holds.  I made it up to the lip of the roof without problem but the last hold was a razor sharp undercling that I could feel cutting into my hands.  I used a knee bar and reach as high as I could around the edge.  The rock up there was the abrasive and painfully sharp rock found all over the UAE, but still had nothing good to offer in the way of a hold.  I fought to stay on the rock and get a good hold as my muscles tried to give out.  Eventually I found enough of a sloper at the top that I tried to pull myself around the lip but my knee was now preventing forward movement.  I moved back down a bit and freed my knee.  Using everything I had I pulled on the painful rock above and managed to get myself over the bulge and to the anchors.  I initialed the face next to the anchors with the blood dripping from my hand.  Exhausted from the back to back climbs, scraped, sore, and with a hurting shoulder I called it a day.  Some of the group headed out while I belayed Sam on texas chicken.

The rest of us headed out the wadi and stopped in town for some food.  The tiny local restaurant had delicious and very cheap vegetarian “egg rolls.” We all ordered some, then all ordered some more.  After the long day of climbing it was just what we needed.  As we headed back through the border I was a little nervous about having a Wonderwall repeat.  Only a little though because every guard or security person always loves Sam and would probably let her anywhere without having any ID.  It wasn’t a problem.  We cruised back to Dubai looking for a gas station.  The gas light had been on for half an hour and there was still no gas station in sight.  I didn’t particularly want to break down on Emirates road since everyone drives 150kph on it and I doubted people would stop (unless I hid in the car while Sam stood on the side of the road looking distressed).  We managed to find a gas station just at the point when I thought we were actually going to run out for sure.

 


Bouldering Wall!

Why not go out on a limb?  Isn’t that where the fruit is?

-Frank Scully

 

1/18

Math I was moved to Wednesday so I had no class!  Honestly don’t even remember what I did during the day, probably spent most of the time trying to do Senior Design.  The real interest of the day was going to the Rech Cave.  A local climber, Gordon, had invited me to come over on Tuesdays because he has friends come over to hang out and climb, but up until now class had been in the way and I could never get a ride.  Sam’s schedule had changed (somehow she’s the one person who I can convince to come get me to do stuff) and Tuesdays worked for her now.  She picked me up and we headed to Ace and Mirdif to since we never made it before.  After getting quicklinks and webbing we headed to Gordon’s.  It was interesting getting there because, despite living in a fairly large villa community, the turn into the community from the highway just looks like you’re driving off into the desert.  After a few hundred feet the pavement returns, but for some reason neither end is marked or paved at all.

We went in and introduced ourselves.  There were a handful of other people there; it was the most climbers I had seen since being in UAE.  And best of all:  Gordon’s climbing wall which spanned three panels wide, a box feature, and a ceiling panel.  Even better the wall was composed of all problems that were just right difficulty for me to work on for a while and eventually get.  Every time I say I want to travel more this is the counter argument.  When I get homesick, it’s homesick for a climbing wall like this, well, that and moms cooking.  I helped Gordon scheme up new panels to add since apparently lots of what’s there was only recently put in.  We contemplated moving light fixtures, covering the ceiling, cool feathers, and just about anything that would increase awesomeness and size of the wall.  Everyone turned out to be really friendly and fun.  We even made plans to go climbing the following weekend (or more made plans for me to join them since they were already planning on going).  We headed out with plans for the weekend still floating through my head.

 

1/19

Islamic Culture class has been a letdown in terms actually learning about the reality of Islam and Arabic culture.  As a result we have rallied some of the local students and arranged for them to teach us what we really wanted from the class to begin with.  The first class was a little crazy because we had three kids teaching us stuff sometimes at once.  Overall it was great though and I was quite impressed with their preparation and eagerness to teach us.  The first thing I learned is how to write my name in Arabic:

ديلان

 

1/20

The start of Dubai Shopping Festival! Oh joy, just what I’ve been waiting for.  We headed to Dubai Festival City (don’t get excited, it’s just another mall) because our free bus was going there and it’s pretty close to where they were shooting off fireworks.  We grabbed some dinner and headed to Dubai Creek Park in a taxi.  Four of the six people ended up wanting to stay a bit longer at the mall so it only ended up being just Nina and me.  We got dropped off and began exploring the park.  I don’t know whether to call it torture or amazing: there were free bounce houses, inflatable slide, and obstacle courses all for free, and all for little kids so I couldn’t play on them.  A parade banged, clashed, drummed, and sang as people dressed up in all kinds of costumes from across the world and some just from someone’s imagination walked by (some of the costumes were a little reminiscent of West Hollywood Halloween).  As soon as the parade passed everyone began to flood toward the creek so we figured fireworks would start soon.  I found a random tower platform that had some kids in it.  We climbed up and sat in the front and waited for the fireworks to start.  We had the best seats in the house.  The fireworks were spectacular.  Every kind of firework I knew as well as many I hadn’t seen before light up the sky.  The show lasted for 25 minutes just for a shopping festival.  The fireworks ended and we headed back to Festival City to try to catch the free bus going to EA.  Traffic was terrible so we began to walk.  As we headed across a parking lot just outside the park I heard a screech and snapped my head up in time to see a car hit a little boy and send him flying through the air.  I was horrified; it was the first time I’ve ever seen someone get hit by a car in real life.  The mom shrieked and a crowd gathered around the boy.  As we walked past the boy looked to be at least mostly alright and I felt a little better that he looked to be about 10 (initially I thought he was about 4 or 5) and there was no blood gushing.  We continued on, crossing over the creek and headed toward the mall.  Of course, as soon as we were away from traffic we couldn’t find a taxi to bring get us there faster.  We made it back at about 9:45.  Unfortunately the bus which used to leave at 10:30 had left at 9:30.  We gave up and flagged down a taxi to get back to EA.

 


World Travels

New experiences are the key to happiness.

-Unknown/me?

 

Alright, it’s official, I need to travel more!  I just got the following ratings.

  • Worldliness:  is a scout
  • Off the beaten track:  occasionally strays off track
  • Roughing it:  likes a bug-free bed and hot showers
  • Danger:  takes a little risk
  • Shrewdness:  Stays alert while traveling

And the map of my travels so far…

 

I’ll admit that I haven’t been to tons of countries, but this thing really needs to account for more than just locations traveled to.  I spent a month in New Zealand living out of a van or tent, I lived in a abandoned van for a month in Moab, and I have camped in the middle of nowhere just about everywhere I’ve been and this has the audacity to say I like bug-free beds and hot showers?  Bring on the bugs!  There’s just nowhere to put if you stay in a Holiday Inn or a ditch (I usually choose the ditch).

I’ll play along with the shenanigans though, I just need to start ticking off places I want to go.  Here are a few on the higher end of the list in no particular order:

  • Patagonia (Chili & Argentina, especially everywhere including Las Torres and Cerro Torre)
  • Mexico (especially El Portrero Chico)
  • Costa Rica
  • Venezuela (especially Mount Roraima
  • Columbia
  • Brazil (especially Agulha do Diabo near Teresopolis)
  • India
  • Spain
  • Greece (especially Meteora & the islands)
  • Italy (especially Italian Alps)
  • Switzerland (uhh, Matterhorn anyone?)
  • Norway (especially Prekestolen)
  • Canada (especially Bugaboos, Squamish, BC, St Johns, and Mount Thor)
  • Pakistan (especially Nameless Tower and the northern mountains)
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Japan
  • Jamaica
  • Cuba
  • South Africa
  • Australia
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Russia (especially Siberia)
  • Turkey
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Nepal
  • Egypt
  • Morocco

…Remember these are just the ones higher up on my list.

If you can’t tell by the list most of my destinations are based on climbing, but if there’s climbing all over the world why not start with those places?  I have a lot of travelling to do and this doesn’t even account for time in each country!  If I don’t answer my phone for the next 1-50 years you should all know why.

 

More posts about my current adventures in progress and coming soon!


Mall, Meatless, & Moving

A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.

-Leo Tolstoy

 

1/15

Disaster!  The plan was to climb with Sam Saturday because she was playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tourney Friday, but in her tour to victory she messed up her knee and couldn’t climb.  We made plans to meet up in the evening to go to a vegetarian restaurant (I love having other vegetarians around to eat with) and get some climbing stuff.

In the mean time the Roc crew was planning on heading off to Ibn Battuta Mall on the other side of Dubai so I decided to join.  We did the usual hop skip and a jump and were at the mall.  As we walked up to the front we found a huge balloon tied down.  We debated whether it was an actual hot air balloon or just another mall decoration.  As we approached the entrance we found ourselves in Egypt.  The mall is broken down into different countries (Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India, and China) and decorated accordingly.  Walking through the mall we found statues and figures in each one as well.  Egypt had an early 25ft sun dial, Persia and the Elephant clock (though not working was cool since we learned about it in Islamic Studies), and China had an enormous ship.  We walked to the China end where there was an outdoor garden with restaurants.  Mike, Maddie, Steve, and I got some amazing food at Lime Tree Cafe.  I had an awesome orzo salad and eventually gave in and went back to get a huge, delicious slice of carrot cake.  Hunger sated we continued exploring the world.  The other three went to get some Yongen Fruz so I headed into GoSport to check what they had for climbing gear.  I was disappointed that their entire stock consisted of one glass cabinet with a few slings, biners, and cams.  I was interested to see some Wild Country Zero series cams.  They had the smallest one which was only rated to a few kN, was so light I could barely tell it was there, and had lobes only a couple mm wide.  Clearly not a piece you want to fall on (it’s only used for aid climbing).  I met back up with everyone and we wandered a bit more before I decided it was time to head out so I could get groceries at Lulus and meet up with Sam.  As I walked out the door I noticed the balloon in front of the exit was now a hundred feet up.  It was no open and taking people up for rides.  It was, of course since this is Dubai, the largest tethered balloon in the world.

The trip to Lulus on the metro was longer than expected and compounded with the impossible to find entrance I got there about when I was supposed to meet with Sam.  I dashed around getting what I could find off my list and was just about done when she got there.  I had only found a fraction of the things I wanted but evenings are just not the time to do any grocery shopping anywhere in Dubai so I called it quits.  We headed off to Bur Dubai to the vegetarian restaurant (the one Andy, Stan, and I made it to after the long search).  Saravana Bhavan (the restaurant) was delicious as expected and of course neither of us had any idea what we were actually buying but it’s all vegetarian so we didn’t care.  On the way back to EA we planned to stop at Ace hardware to get some quicklinks for climbing and Decathlon to get some webbing.  The only problem was our navigation or lack thereof.  Neither of us remembered what road Ace was on, just that it was between Emirates road and Sheikh Zayed road.  We took a guess and ventured off.  Our plan didn’t quite work.  If you’re not familiar with roads in Dubai they are a nightmare.  The great Maine saying “ya cant get theya from he’ya” was taken to heart in the construction of the roads here.  Roads don’t lead where they seem to and never have exits where you want them.  Eventually we ended up in Sharjah, the next emirate up from Dubai and couldn’t seem to find our way back to Emirates road.  At one point we saw a sign saying Dubai.  We followed the indicated direction only to find at the next roundabout another sign saying Dubai pointing back the way we had just come.  Call it a miracle, call it luck, call it my mad skills driving when Sam and I switched (her hurt knee wasn’t fond of driving), but eventually we managed to find our way back to Emirates road.  We had abandoned the attempt at Ace and Decathlon long before so I headed back to EA and said bye to Sam.

 

1/16

My roommate Tido had requested to go back to a single (aka boot me out).  I had talked to RIT people and everything was supposed to be arranged for me to get my new room key and move out between Thursday and Saturday.  That was all well and grand but the only person from EA that knew about it was apparently sick and didn’t tell anyone else about it.  I checked in with the front desk three or four times over the weekend to try to get it sorted but nothing got resolved until Sunday night.  I loaded up my stuff and moved down the hall.  I went from living with Achmed to living with Ahmed.  It was rather uneventful although amusing to see exactly how much stuff I have here.  The real amusing part is that 75% of it is climbing and camping gear.  I had been shoving little things in my pockets to carry them to my new room.  This however turned out to be a terrible idea with superglue.  I pulled a handful of junk out of my pocket and the lid got pulled off in the process.  Thankfully I realized quickly what had happened.  As superglue poured onto my hand I managed to toss everything else on the floor, grab the lid and cap it.  My index finger was covered in glue and I barely managed to remove my middle finger from it before the glue set.  Close call, but it only resulted in some glue on my finger and no fingers glued to phones (caugh caugh).  Moving didn’t take too long and it was relieving because I didn’t start until almost midnight.  My stuff in place I headed to bed.

In the middle of the night I got a phone call.  I answered without looking at the number or thinking about it.  It was some random person looking for Mario.  I told him he had the wrong number and was ready to go to hang up.  He wasn’t.  He insisted it was Mario’s phone and kept asking how I got it.  I was too grogy to think to hang up on him so I kept explain it was my phone.  Then he started threatening to call the police because I stole Mario’s phone.  I was pretty unimpressed.  He clearly didn’t know I had the cheapest possible phone.  I explained one more time and was about to hang up but he beat me to it.  I had talked to him for two and a half minutes, at 3:30AM.  I found out the next morning that Andy had received a call from the same number a minute before but hadn’t answered.  Michelle and I called the number back that afternoon.  The guy said his name was Achmed but wouldn’t give his last name.  Trying to figure out who it was Michelle asked if Bruno (RIT student) was there, the guy asked if she meant Brazilian Bruno.  It was an RIT student.  That was about as much as we found out, but if it didn’t cost to call people I would call the number back all the time and annoy the hell out of them.


SDR & 5.12s

To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist.

Gail Sheehy

 

1/13

It was a crazy, hectic, week from hell preparing for my System Design Review (SDR).  Andy, Allie, and I spent almost every waking minute trying to prepare.  Thursday came well before it was wanted.  The day started out with a tour of the local desalination plant in Jebel Ali.  It was great to see the largest desal plant in the world, especially since we learned about it in my Renewable Energy Systems class and are doing desal for our Senior Design project.  It was disconcerting to find out that they don’t even remove fish from the water before blasting it with chlorine and killing everything.  There was even a large dead fish floating in the first reservoir.  Unfortunately the actual flash desalination takes place in large chambers that are not visible, but we got to track the entire process and see all of the other processing that goes into creating drinking water from sea water.  To top it off we even got polos, a computer mouse, and fed mini sandwiches at the end that were tasty and vegetarian.  Interesting, informative, and free food: all the components for a good tour.

We headed back to RIT for our last few hours of preparation and our SDR.  We practiced the portion of the presentation we had each decided to present for a few hours until the time came and the real thing got underway.  Dr. Hensel, the head of the ME department was in Dubai for the week and attended our review in person so we were a bit nervous about it.  Other than skype working even more poorly than normal, the whole thing went alright.  Having Dr. Hensel there in person turned out to be very helpful as we could talk with him in person for the first time during our project.

The three of us made it back to EA just in time to grab a bite of food and head out to celebrate with the rest of the gang at Fibber McGees.  We had dinner, chatted, belted out songs we knew when they were played (ok, that was mostly just me and Andy) and had a jolly good time.  Much later than I should have been back since I was climbing in the morning the first group headed back to EA and I joined.

 

1/14

I woke up to my phone ringing.  It was Brian.  He was already at my building to pick me up.  Apparently I forgot to set alarms or just slept through them all.  I grabbed my climbing gear, some water, and some snacks and stuffed them into my backpack and ran out the door.  I was still exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated when we got up to RAK to climb.  The group ended up being Brian, Renata, Ludmil, and me.  I pounded water, ate some of my snacks, and we walked up to the base of DickinaDozer to climb.  I skipped the easiest climb and worked my way up the other four from the 5.10a (Motivate) to the 11.b (Reach for the Sky).  They were a good set of climbs and by the time I had done a couple of them I totally forgot about being hungry or thirsty, I just wanted to climb more.

(Me on Dog Leg Interruption, 5.10b/c)

Brian and Renata headed off while Ludmill and I did the 5.11b so once done we headed around the corner to Zombie Skull where there were some more routes.  There are several easier routes that we had done during xmas break but I had my eye on the prize:  The Space Between.  It’s a F6c+ in the book, but the consensus is that it’s a 7.a+ (5.12a) route that goes up the almost blank side of a giant boulder.  I geared up and started to lead it.  I got as far as the first bolt and kept trying some ungodly hard moves to get higher off a razor sharp two finger pinch.  It wasn’t working.  After a while of trying things I finally gave up and came down.  I was planning on leading and easy trad line that I could use to get to the top of the boulder and set a top rope when a guy showed up.  He introduced himself as Ralph, the guy who had bolted the newer and easier (than 5.12a) routes Renata and Brian were on.  We chatted for a bit and he told me that the bolts on The Space Between were weird and that I actually don’t really follow them but stay to the left more.  Before resorting to the TR I gave it another go.  This time things worked out better.  I stayed to the left and made it past the second bolt.  The holds were tiny and sloped, but I pulled through and made it up the first part.

(Me on the lower part trying to get up to the second bolt)

(Me about to reach the top of the lower section)

The route got a positive grade and I scrambled up the 15 ft to the next section of hard climbing.  I was on the left side of a rounded edge of a slab face with no holds.  I worked my way up and down a couple times trying to find a way to get myself all the way onto the slab.  I managed to find the two smallest crimps and with some tricky footwork and lifting my foot above my waste I found a sequence I thought would work.  The first couple moves worked out but as I had to stand up onto my foot which was on a steep slope and balance using holds that were well blow my waste when I stood up I was precariously positioned.  Before I could reach up to find another hold my foot slipped and I went sliding backwards off the rock.  Back down 15 ft below I was disappointed, but knew it would work if I could balance.  I went back up and tried again, this time I was more unsure of my foot.  I had to bounce a bit to keep sliding it up and reposition it which is never a fun thing to do when one foot is the only thing I had to hold me up.  It worked though.  I stuck the move and finished some slab moves up to the top.  So much for the difficult part at the bottom, this was definitely the crux.

After Ludmil had a go on The Space Between on TR we moved the rope over and I TRed Cyclops Eye (7a in the book, 7b or c by consensus which is 5.12b or d).  I was already tired but managed to haul my way up the decent holds and hard moves to the top with a few stops along the way.  It was no clean run or even a lead, but it sure worked the muscles.

(Throwing up a heel hook to get over the lip of the roof)

(In the eye of the cyclops)

Still not burned out enough I decided to lead Axis of Evil (5.10b) because it was the only bolted route there that I hadn’t done.  It was a good finisher, fun moves, but not terribly hard or requiring lots of energy.

After that we headed back to the car.  Despite the rough start and not having a real meal all day it had been a great day of climbing and I did the most routes I had done in a day in the UAE, including an 11b, 12a, and TRed 12b/d.  Before I didn’t know that I could even do a 5.12, but as I headed back I decided I have a new goal:  climb at least one 5.12 every weekend.


Borders and Boundaries

Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

-Miriam Beard

 

1/8 – Wonderwall day 2

We slept in after the previous evening’s epic.  Finally I mustered the energy and rolled out from under my blanket (I still didn’t get my sleeping bag or pad back so I was just using a blanket).  I started a fire using the well earned wood.  I loaded my pot with the largest portion of oatmeal that could fit, cooking the mix of oats, raisins, walnuts, apple, and banana on the open fire.  It was amazing.  Part of that may have been due to my residual hunger, but it was pretty tasty anyway.  We ate, packed up camp, and headed over to where we wanted to climb.  Ironically camping at the crag didn’t get us started any earlier in the morning.

We started on High rise, a moderate 3 pitch sport route.  I climbed to each set of anchors and set up the belay.  Much to my chagrin the more I climbed the more I realized I could have linked two of the pitches if not all 3.  At least the climb got Sam’s average down to 50% epics on multipitch climbs.  The route put us on top of a big ledge.  To the side were two more great looking climbs on the vertical face continuing up.  I choose Zoot Allures (5.11a) because it was harder and looked less confusing.

(Inspecting my route up Zoot Allures)

I set my camera up using my gear to angle it up at the climb, but unfortunately the ledge wasn’t big enough to get the entire route in the frame.  I started off on some not too difficult but pumpy moves on an overhang.  Pulling through that the route continued on a very sparsely featured face with tiny crimps, smaller than half a pad on my finger.  The climbing continued like this 80 feet to the anchors with occasional good holds thrown in.  It was an excellent climb.  If that description somehow didn’t bore you then you might be interested in checking out the full climb here.  We walked off down a chute between the cliff and the huge slab of rock that High Rise was on.  Back at the bottom we decided to head over to the opposite end of the crag to check out a couple different areas that looked to have some good routes: Mordor and Gondor.

On the walk there we spotted a cave at the base of the cliff.  Depending on where you were the dark and light blotches on the wall of it made it look like there was either a large cat, G’mork from Never Ending Story, or some even larger beast.  The final scramble lead to a shelf at the base of a small face with an 8 ft wide roof at the top.  This is what I came to Mordor to climb: the Uruk-Hai Overhang (5.11a).  I gave Sam an anchor so she couldn’t risk stepping back and tumbling down the slope and started the route.  The face was fairly space, but not especially difficult.  The roof was a beast.  There were good holds through the roof, but by the time I tried to pull the lip back onto the vertical I had no energy left in my arms and no love for the razor edges on the hold I was pulling on.  Sadly I didn’t get it clean, but I managed to grab the sharp rock and pull myself up to the chains.  Cleaning my draws off the route while on rappel was quite an adventure too.  Finishing that I decided there was enough daylight to get in one last route so we headed over to Gondor and climbed My Precioussss.  It was another moderate face climb and ended up being a great end to the weekend.  We headed back down to the car and made it there at the perfect time to get as close to dark as possible without having to actually hike down in the dark.

Thoroughly exhausted from the weekend of climbing and unanticipated hiking we headed back toward Buraymi, the UAE, and Dubai.  We only got as far as the first.  We waited our turn in line at the border crossing again, but instead of the slew of questions this time they just said no.  I, of course, was the problem.  I had officially exited the UAE, but never received an entry stamp from Oman and they would not issue a new entry stamp for UAE unless I had entered and exited another country.  We were handed a set of poor directions that didn’t really show anything and told we needed to go 50km back the way we came.  Annoyed that we hadn’t received any instruction on what to do the first time through when we had told them we were only going to Buraymi we headed back through the land of no country to find the mysterious Oman border.  It actually wasn’t hard to find since it was back the way we came.  In fact, we even passed the small turn off that lead to Wonderwall on our way.  We found the building and went in to get our stamps.  I handed him 200dhs and he stamped my entry and my exit at the same time.  We turned back around and headed for Buraymi, again.  Once again, we didn’t get far.  There was a small shack with a guard collecting slips of paper from everyone who had gone through the border.  We had no piece of paper.  Whether it was because we didn’t actually go through the border or because the guy had just forgotten was unknown, but we were beckoned to pull off the side.  Sam explained our lack of the all important paper to the guard and he got on the phone.  It was decided that a couple dumb Americans were not a security or customs threat and we were allowed to continue on.  Our second attempt to re-enter the UAE proved successful, although the wait in line was much less exciting (they have a TV and on the first attempt they were playing something about climbing).  Back on the right side of the fence we headed back to Dubai, two hours after we first got to the border crossing.

 


Epic at Wonderwall

Good memories not good decisions

-Unknown

 

1/7

The weekend epic began with an early start.  I was up by 5:30 with only a couple hours of sleep but with the enthusiasm of looking forward to two days of climbing sleep was far from my thoughts.  Nearing the end of my allowed time in UAE I had to leave the country to get a new passport stamp.  The plan to go back to RAK for the weekend was foiled, but instead a new opportunity arose.  RIT would pay for my passport stamp so I could finally climb in Oman.  Keeping this in mind Sam and I settled on Wonderwall, a large and highly talked about crag just over the border.

We arrived at the border between Al Ain and Buraymi and the confusion began.  We drove through the toll booth style entry.  Nobody inhabited the booths so there was no getting checked and no instructions given.  Sam, familiar with going to Oman, knew we needed to go inside to get our passports stamped.  We found some parking spots and a poorly marked building.  Half a dozen doors spattered the side of the building.  Our first attempt was unsuccessful.  We were told we needed to go farther down the building.  Some border officers noticed the dumb, lost Americans and played a nice game of hot-or-cold with us to direct us to the correct door.  When it was our turn we walked up to the desk.  Explaining our plan to go climbing several times they kept asking if we were only going to Buraymi.  Confused we just said yes and paid our 35dhs a piece and continued on our journey.

We came out though a road cut that revealed a great vista.  The desert ahead spread into a small village and beyond the village was the piece de resistance, Wonderwall: a long stretching wall 150m tall.  We drifted our way through the soft sand to the base of the scree and boulders.  Abandoning the car we trekked up the slope to the base of the first area we planned on climbing: Spaghetti Western.  It was a smooth blank looking slab from farther away, but provided sufficient crimps.  Already having picked out the first climb to be a two pitch sport route, Hang em High.  It was good fun climbing through the whole route.  This was Sam’s second multipitch route and the first one where she didn’t get stuck on top for hours in the dark with no light.

Keeping with the trend we moved to another route where Sam got her second lead climb.

It was still early afternoon so we decided to go to the next section over and do a long moderate 3 pitch trad climb that had been rated highly in the book.  The route, Toothless Fox, proved to be confusing from the start.  I had to search to even find the start and ended up climbing ~40ft before I could place any gear or get onto what I knew was actually the route.  The pitch continued in the same manner, only offering up gear placements ever 40ft until I reached a small round alcove which I could stand in, the belay spot.  The problem with this was there was almost nowhere to place pro, especially the 3 minimum pieces for an anchor.  I moved all around trying to find any good crack but was not rewarded.  Finally I returned to the alcove and began to try to place gear.  Testing my first attempted cam placement I yanked on it, breaking the flakey rock it was on and slammed my elbow against the rock.  I attempted a tricam but only managed to punch the rock again and cut up my knuckles when I tested it.  Eventually I managed to find some tenuous placements: a sling looped through a hole, a solid tricam, a sketchy tricam that popped out of it’s cam position but held as nut, and a scary looking but relatively solid cam placed in the constriction on the outside of a runnel.

Sam climbed up, the anchor help, and I started the second pitch.  It was more of the same:  the description was poor and more confusing more than helpful.  I ended up traversing, per the book, creating absurd rope drag when I got to the long sloping ledge that was the next belay  spot.  Unable to pull the rope through I was forced to sling a bit of rock and down climb to my last (and first of the route) cam.  Searching the ledge there was no protection for an anchor.  The ledge sloped inwards to a large wide crack leaving nothing but a crack twice the size of my largest cam.  I found one large boulder in the crack that I hoped was actually attached.  After moving other rocks around to get to it and testing if I could budge it the rock seemed solid.  I built an anchor of three pieces on the boulder and hoped it would stay.  Sam didn’t really test it, but it remained in place.  The third and last pitch finally provided a growing number of gear placements.  The climbing eased as I neared the top so although I finally had the option to place enough gear, I passed up the opportunity anyway.  My run-out tactics were not without reason though.  Darkness was quickly approaching and we needed every minute possible, dealing with gear would have just slowed me down.  It was only Sam’s second multipitch trad climb and I had told her she wouldn’t have to climb in the dark as she had been forced to do before.  She made it to the top just as it was getting dark.

Descending was a whole new epic.  The book describes a slanting rake that is the only way to the top for hikers but we found no such path.  Sam had her headlamp, but I had been sure we started early enough that I didn’t bring mine.  We found what we believed was the decent path and traversed a zig-zagging ledge.  Thanks to the darkness I could not tell, and therefore could forget easier, that next to me the cliff continued hundreds of feet down to the ground.  Several minutes of this moonlight traverse on the narrow ledge brought us to the end.  The ledge melded back into the cliff and we had no way down.  Still not knowing how high we were I decided not to try to rap off from an outcrop of rock fearing it was too high.  It was a good thing because the next morning I spotted our location 2/3 up the cliff).  We turned around and hiked back to the top.  I was sure that we needed to continue farther along the cliff top to find our decent, or worst case find the rap rings for climbs a ways down Wonderwall.  It looked like an awkward traverse around a bulge to continue along the top so Sam decided she’d had enough uncertainty.  We walked back a bit and descended the scree on the back side of the cliff to walk around.  It soon proved to be a primrose path.  The farther we descended the farther we had to go.  Trying to find the end of the crag I walked over a ridge while Sam kept going down to get off of the scree.  The end of the crag was not over the ridge or over the next one either.  From there I could see the clear cliff line stretching way out in front and to the left.  Unfortunately we had already committed to going this way and neither wanted to hike back up and figure out another way down.  I headed back to catch up with Sam but all I could see was a flickering dot in the distance.  I sped down the remaining scree to catch up, going as fast as I could carrying my rope and rack without having any light.  I got down to the flat, rocky desert but could no longer see any sign of light.  Perfect.  I jogged in the direction of the end of the cliff with my gear rattling like a cowbell on my harness.  I held still for a minute and heard a pleasant sound:  “cling, cling, cling.”  No light but I could still hear the gear on her harness.  I kept jogging, pausing ever few minutes to listen and reorient myself.  I caught up quickly in part thanks to Sam because she stopped, thinking she was being stalked by a goat.  We walked.  We walked.  We, oh yeah, walked more.  Finding some good boards to use for firewood we picked them up and continued on carrying our new weight.  After an eternity we made it to the edge of the small town that had looked so far away from the top of the crag.  Lights shown on something exciting, judging by the yells, happening on the other side of an out of place looking fence with barbed wire.  Semi trucks screamed passed us several times a minute from a nearby mining operation.  We continued walking.  I execrated the cliff and more so our decision.  Trucks sped by.  We (wait for it) walked more.  We continued to trudge around the cliff until time faded and reality blurred.  Our usually great conversation had been replaced by internal musings of taxis, ATVs, camels, horses, buffets, pot lucks, and feasts.  Eventually trudging even took over all other thoughts.  Thankfully Sam was no kvetch and stayed positive despite our weariness.  Still thinking we needed to turn the corner before we would be in front of Wonderwall I was pleasantly surprised when Sam mentioned trying to find a path through the rocks to the dunes in front of the cliff.  I inspected the area: we were almost back to Wonderslab.  Life came rushing back.  A couple more minutes of walking barefoot through the sand and I was treated to the best sight all day: Sam’s car.  It was a glorious sight.  We dumped the gear and laid in the sand, easing aching shoulders and hips that carried rope and gear for our entire epic.  I checked the time to see that it was after 10:00.  We had topped out before 6:00.  Our journey had taken over four hours.  I kicked myself for not insisting we continued around the awkward traverse to find the decent route or some rap rings.  Unfortunately my rope bag and backpack were still up at the base of the climb.  I hiked back up to get my stuff while Sam set up camp.  We at the best tasting cold rice and beans of my life and went to bed without bothering to make a fire with the wood we had just carried for miles.

…to be continued


Ending the Year in Style

I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads.  Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.

-Rosalia de Castro

 

12/29

I spent the morning cleaning up my room, cleaning my rope and gear, and packing it up to go climbing.  By the time I had finished I felt like I was basically moving out of my room.  I had my backpacking pack filled with my camping stuff (primarily the tent I borrowed from Michelle which took a lot of room) and food, my regular pack filled with climbing gear, my rope bag, and a 5L jug of water.  I got a hold of Brian, a Michigander who’s been living in Dubai for several months who I climbed with at RAK, and we planned to meet at the nearest mall between 4:30-4:45.  I loaded all my stuff into a taxi and headed to the mall.  Unfortunately my driver didn’t really speak English or know where Decathlon (the store where I was to meet Brian) was in the mall.  He dropped me off at the main entrance.  It was still only 4:20 so I figured I would just hang out there so I didn’t have to carry my stuff all through the mall.  After a while I started getting concerned that I still hadn’t heard from Brian.  I tried calling but there was no answer.  By 4:45 I decided to at least walk to the entrance by Decathlon so I asked directions and headed to the NE entrance.  After a while there I decided to go in and check the store only to find out that it was on the opposite side of the mall.  Looking like a fool I tromped back outside and down to the SE entrance.  Please note that every time I walk somewhere I have a big backpack on, my smaller but heavy backpack of climbing gear on the front, a rope bag on one side, and a 5L jug of water in the other hand.  I definitely looked like a vagrant.  Down at the other end of the mall I didn’t have any better luck.  I walked into Decathlon, received some very weird looks, and found out that Brian wasn’t in the store either.  I began to debate calling it quits and getting a cab back to EA since it was after 5:30.  I headed back outside to wait near the parking lot.  Seeing come shopping carts I finally had the idea to get one to carry all my stuff.  An hour late, but still helpful.  Unfortunately it cost a dirham to get and I had no coins.  Instead I waited until an unsuspecting victim exited the mall with a cart and walked to her car.  As she closed her trunk I pounced:  “Would you like me to take that for you?”  “Oh, yes please.”  At last, I didn’t have to haul all my stuff.

A minute later I got a call from Brian saying the grocery store had taken longer than expected and he didn’t bring his phone in, but he was on his way now.  With my cart in tow and ride on the way I headed back into Decathlon and looked at gear until Brian, Renata, and Athina (Renatas adorable 4 year old daughter) arrived.  We headed out at 6.

I spent most of the ride up to RAK being the eagle while Athina was the horse until she fell asleep.  We found our camping spot near the crag and set up camp.  I opened the tent I borrowed from Michelle and gawked at its enormity.  It could easily fit 6 people and when set up I could easily stand in it, and not just in the middle.  We scavenged wood, made a fire, and hung out for a while before heading to bed.

 

12/30

I woke up several times starting  at 6am but seeing that nobody else was up continuously went back to sleep until it was nearly 8.  Everyone slowly roused and packed things up.  They wanted to explore the area so we headed up a bit of a canyon.  Remains of old Bedouin buildings were scattered all over the area.  Just before the wadi ended there was a cluster of huts more intact than the rest.  It was neat to see one that, other than part of the roof, was completely intact.  It emphasized the diminutive design of the buildings.  The doorway was only a small square just off the ground only big enough to fit my shoulders diagonally.

We eventually arrived at Zombie Skull, the area where Brian had heard there were 20 new routes, by late morning.  The problem was that there were only a few new routes.   We climbed them anyway although none were very difficult and I alternated between playing with Athina and climbing. While Brian was on the top of a climb a goat meandered across some ledges a hundred feet above him, as if to say “whacha doing down there?”  People think of monkeys as climbers, but I’ve also seen goats do things that most people cant do.

(Click to enlarge so you can see the goat better)

After a couple routes we headed out and went to another area, Disk World.  It had several longer moderate face climbs.  We did one and I wanted to do the hardest one (not that hard overall), but with the sun getting ready to set we headed back to our camping area.  On the way back to the car Athina found a goat horn and a stick and decided she was a billy goat.

(My weekend buddy/entertainment/just plain adorable)

It had been quite a long time since I got to hang out around a camp fire.  We chatted, schemed, and ate around the fire.  More beginner climbers would be climbing with us in the morning so Brian and I decided to head out before 7 to get a few hours of hard climbing in first.  I had abandoned using a tent for the night and strung up my hammock from the thorn tree nearby.  Unfortunately in doing so I had scraped myself up far more than during the day of climbing.  I crawled into my hammock and began my night of sleeping in two hour increments.

12/31

With much difficulty I roused myself at 6 to climb.  After cooking some oatmeal on the fire I attempted to wake Brian.  No luck.  Looks like the early morning climbs wouldn’t be happening.  I scrambled up the nearest ridge and hiked from one ridge to the next all around the area until I spotted signs of life from the camp far below.

We got another late start and headed to Roadside crag.  Brian and I rope gunned some easy routes for everyone else then had some time to do more challenging routes.  I lead Thug Monkey, the 5.11a I had TRed the last time.  I was happy that I cleanly and calmly managed the moves that felt desperate before.  Brian wanted to try another route before then lead Thug Monkey so we pulled my rope and headed around the bend to Peckers Poke.  It was a great layback crack and the first layback I’ve seen in the UAE.  I cruised through it and TRed the unprotectable but quite fun very thin face to the side of it.  From the top I tossed the rope down and headed around to do the same to the two TRs.  Unfortunately once I did this and hiked around to the bottom Brian informed me that one of the ropes got stuck and we needed to re-climb the route to get it.  While Brian chased the rope I headed back up Thug Monkey since Brian decided he didn’t want to do it after all and I had gear on it still.

Eventually we had collected all our gear and loaded back in the cars to go to Farside Crag.  I started on Devils Slide.  I climbed an easy section 25 ft tall before I could clip the first bolt.  From there I fist jammed through 35ft of a smooth crack with bolted protection until it opened up for 35ft of trad in which I decided to only place 1 piece of gear before I decided it wasn’t worth the time.  It was an interesting and certainly diverse climb.  Last, but not least was Angels way: another tall route, this time all bolted, that varied from chimney to face climbing resulting in some great and interesting climbing.

The sun had set.  It was dark in the wadi (canyon basically) as we cruised down the windy road back into Ras Al-Khaimah.  It was New Years Eve and I still had no idea what I was going to do.  After a quick talk with Andy it didn’t seem like much was going on in Dubai so I decided to head to an unknown party in the desert organized by John, the 65 year old climbing machine who has set most of the routes in RAK.  I was uncertain what it would be like but as we drifted through soft sand lights were visible over the dunes.  We crested the hill and all my doubts about this being boring melted away.  Arriving at 9:00 we were already on the late end of things, at least compared to the hundred or so people who were already gathered around the bonfire and many barbecues.  Someone even brought a pair of huge speakers that we blasting from the back of a truck.  We join in the ruckus, meet people, danced, and had a great time.  My New Years Eves seem to have finally recovered from two bad ones in a row.  Now I just want to continue 2011 the way NYE was: climbing and festivities.


East Coast Exploration

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

-Jawaharial Nehru

 

12/27

Spent most of the day doing nothing but ended up hungry with no food and it was still too early for the dining hall (more of a catered dinner each night).  It was the perfect opportunity to explore the restaurant in the labor camp.  Stan and I ventured out the gates of EA, past the mosque, and across the dusty dirt soccer “field” to the restaurant.  We walked in and took a seat.  A marker board hanging on the wall listed about 12 options.  Not knowing what anything was and not wanting to get something with meat I attempted to ask what was vegetarian.  It was quite confusing because he barely spoke English and I don’t speak any Hindi or Arabic.  After quite a bit of confusion I managed to order Alu Palak which I was pretty sure wouldn’t have any meat and some roti.  The food arrived in a couple minutes.  The roti was the largest I have seen, about a foot in diameter.  The alu palak was not quite such a large portion (and had no meat), but both were excellent.  After we finished up our food we got our check.  11dhs.  My part was only 4 ($1.08).  Great food.  Amazing price.

After dinner I went to play soccer with Andy, Stan, and Omar.  Unfortunately the field had already been reserved.  We went on anyway and played on the unused side of the field.  A kid of the people who reserved the field came and played with us so we played 2v2 with Andy in goal.  He was pretty good considering he was only about 8 and barefoot.  The only problem was that he was scared of Omar after he blasted a shot that Andy unintentionally saved with his face.

 

12/28

We woke up early to head out on a hike to Wadi Wurayah.  Michelle and her friend Akheel picked Stan, Andy, and I up at 5AM to head to the east coast for a hike.  Unfortunately we missed some turns and took a bit of the long way around so we went all the way up to Ras Al-Khaimah, down to Fujairah, then back up almost to Dibba turning our 1.5 hour trip into a 4 hour trip.  Our plan to arrive before sunrise to see some wildlife was further foiled by the terrible directions we got online.  Not quite knowing where to go we stopped at a parking lot next to a dry dam.  We were pretty sure we weren’t at the wadi but hoped we could hike the last bit to it.  We hiked down to the dry creek bed.

The mud from past floods tiled the ground and curled up where it had cracked apart.  We found feline foot prints dried in the mud and small wild melons all over the cracked floor.  Most of the melons were dried up, but a few were still healthy looking.  I cracked one open with my knife and tried a little piece.  It may not have been bad but it certainly wasn’t ripe.  It was the most bitter thing I have ever tasted.  I washed my mouth out immediately.  That didn’t help.  I ate an apple and drank some more water.  Eventually the bitter taste subsided.  We spotted a small offshoot that looked interesting and began hiking up it.  Exploring and meandering we worked our way up the dry bed a little ways passing a hole or den some kind of cat had dug out.  After a bit we agreed that we needed to figure out where we were going a little bit more if we wanted to actually make it to the wadi.  I volunteered to climb up to the top of the nearby peak and see what I can see; Akheel wanted to come too.  I set off scrambling up the ravine as it turned from a moderate hike to true chossaneering.  To avoid pulling off some loose rock, pitching over backward, and tumbling hundreds of meters to my certain demise I shook, hit, pulled, and kicked every rock before I put any weight on it.  I conquered mountain at last and scrambled up to the carren.  I looked around soaking in the 360 degree vista.

From the top I could see back to Indian ocean and Snoopy Island.  Surveying the cry washes to determine the direction of the wadi I noticed a road, paved and all, heading up one branch.  That was where we needed to go.  Our meager directions had lead us to the dam rather than the waterfall of the wadi.  We headed back down to meet up with everyone and trekked back to the car.  The entire hike I had been noticing the abundance of garbage lodged in every crack of dried mud and every recess in the rock.  I began to grab a couple pieces on our way back and before I knew what was going on Andy had joined with gusto so by the time we got back we had collected so many bottles, pieces of foam, and even 5 gal water jugs we could have filled several full sized trash bags.

We piled back into the car eager to get away from the flies the coated everything (as they seem to do in all of the UAE) and headed back down the paved road to take the road we hadn’t chosen before.  We headed on down the road until the pavement ended again.  This time seemed much more hopeful and after walking only a few hundred meters we spotted the wadi.  A hundred meters below.  Our most recent road had lead us to an overlook where we could see the green reeds, lush plants, and waterfall of the wadi, all covered in spray-paint and litter.  I located a spot where I could make my way down the steep scree to get to the wadi.  Akheel decided to brave to slope but Stan, Andy, and Michelle weren’t so brave and decided to go back to what looked like a better path a little farther back.  As I made it down to the bottom I found a small goat skull and a bright scarf.  I named it Fred.

The wadi was great and terrible.  As I mentioned before, it was covered with litter and spray-paint which was quite sad, but it was still beautiful.  I veritable fountain of life in the middle of the harsh desert.  I climbed around the pool of water and inspected it.  It was crystal clear and looked pretty deep.  I looked up to see the ledges above.  Oh yeah.  I went back and walked into the water.  It was cool and refreshing, even to the point of chilly compared to the toasty desert.  I swam across to the deep pool and dove.  It was plenty deep (around 4m).  I got out and climbed back around, convincing Akheel to jump oh the ledge that was about 3m.  Wanting to get pictures of me jumping I waited for our stragglers to jump.  About 40 minutes after us they finally strolled up.  They had decided to try to drive back and all the way up to the wadi, but eventually ditched the car due to the rocky track and walked a ways in.  Once I had recruited a photographer a walked around up to the top ledge.  I stood and debated my leap.  Trying to determine how high it was I asked around and the common answer seemed to be 25m, but I don’t think it could have been more than 20m.  After a minute of contemplation nerves (related to the depth of the water mostly) got the better of me and I moved to another slightly lower ledge.  With Andy’s waterproof camera around my wrist I leaped from the ledge.  Encouraged by the fact that I didn’t even come close to the bottom I ran back to the top and hurled myself off the tallest ledge.


“it’s like viagra, you go from Burj Al Arab to Burj Khalifa”

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

– Mark Twain

 

12/9

Souks!

Andy, Steve, Nina, Kristin, and I set out to find the famed souks of Dubai.  Since only one line of the metro is finished we got off with a few km to go and began wandering through the streets of merchants, tiny stores, and hoards of Indian guys hawking “copy Rolex, Guicci, Armani…”  After several random stores and many small allies we found the Gold Souk.

It was filled with gold jewelry from wall to wall.  Nina had visited it before and lead us to a smoothie store.  The smoothies were delicious and tasted even better than they looked.  I got a Jazeera which was some combination of mango and some other fruit with walnuts, raisins, and a kiwi on top.

As we left our empty glasses behind we didn’t get ten feet before a man threw a gitra on my head.  Before we knew what was happening we were dressed as Emiratis and having our pictures taken.

After a few he had dressed us all up he started trying to convince us to buy the clothes or some scarves.  Everything he did was “the new trend” but somehow I don’t think this would be good beach or club attire which is what he said I should wear it for.  I actually think I would have some angry Emiratis if I wore this around in public.  We considered the scarves but he was asking for over AED100.  Steve bartered down to 80 but that was still more than the rest of us wanted to pay so we moved on.

We wandered through more winding alleys.  We walked passed another scarf shop and the shop keeper ran over and stopped Nina.  He remembered her from a year and a half ago when she and her friends visited his store.  Wen went into the store and looked at scarves while he made one ridiculous and hilarious remark after another.  After 10 minutes he insisted Nina should be his wife and we were all his best friends.  He brought us upstairs to look at more scarves while he instructed Andy and Steve stay downstairs and watch the store (and sell to anyone if they came in).  A few minutes later he ran back downstairs and reappeared with a belly dancer outfit hi insisted Nina try on.  The whole shebang was good natured and quite comical so we spent the better part of an hour trying to get our breath back between his comments.

Eventually we made it back downstairs and the bartering began.  Since we were “friends” he said he would sell for AED170 instead of his usual 200-230.  We bartered back and forth for a long while and despite all his protests we managed to get him to 260 for 3 scarves.  I decided not to get any to his great disappointment.  Nina needed to pay with a credit card so we followed him through some winding streets to another random shop that had a card machine.  The entire way there and back he hounded me for being in love with my money.  Once we got back to his store Kristin looked at postcards while he brought Nina back in and gave her a free scarf for bringing the rest of us there.  Then he came back for me.  “Your friends all buy my scarf, why you no buy?  I’m not happy.”  He grabbed me by the wrist and pulled my back into his shop.  Me genuinely not wanting to get a scarf was actually great bartering because he offered me three for 150 or two for 100 (earlier he insisted anything less than 120 each was a loss for him and that the only ones he can sell for less are his cheap silk ones from china instead of these cashmere ones).  For future reference when bartering:  don’t want it and you can get it cheaper.

On our initial walk we had overshot the spice souk so we headed back to find it.  First we found lots of stores selling bulk nuts, grains, and spices.  From the nice suits and desks in each store these were clearly for massive amounts of goods not for small scale sales.  The smell hit is first.  It came wafting toward us just before we found the souk itself.  Cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves, coriander, ginger, rosemary, thyme, dried lemon.  Bin, buckets, and baskets of all kinds of spices resided in front of stores with even more inside.

Compared to the wider street of the gold souk this was a narrow alleys.  It was a picture straight out of a movie and it was awesome.  I even found a set of stairs leading up and the shop keeper let us go look at the roofs.  Clearly it was not a wealthy area:  the roof was full of blankets, pads, and other signs that this was the primary residents for many people.

The clear favorite goods were vanilla and saffron.  Whole vanilla beans could be found at every shop.  Saffron was being hawked by everyone and apparently it does more than taste good.  Many toted it’s powers, but one put it best:  “it’s like viagra, you go from Burj Al Arab to Burj Khalifa.”

After getting back from our (Andy, Allie, and I) first Skype meeting the other half of our Senior Design team in NY I headed out to play soccer.  It was truly amazing.  Armed (or should I say footed?) with my new cleats I could actually change direction again.  I came out hot scoring a hat trick (3) playing 4v4 before tons more people came and the game got pretty messy.  New cleats and 3 goals was more than enough to make my night, despite the foot pain.


Tour, Wild Wadi, and a Semblance of Normality.

If you want to be happy, be.

-Leo Tolstoy

 

12/4

RIT organized a “Big Bus Tour” for us to see Dubai.  We shuttled out to the first stop and got on the open top double decker bus.  We cruised around the city listening to audio commentary and looking at all the cool buildings, which seem to all be built in pairs.  The first stop was Atlantis, the hotel on the palm island, to explore a bit and see the aquarium.  Next was the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world by area which has over 1200 stores, and the Burj Khalifa which is the worlds tallest building.

Our final stop was Dubai creek for a boat tour.  We ended up having to take the last one which worked out well because the sun set during our mini-cruise and we go to see the lights on the banks.

 

12/5

Starting the week on Sunday was a bit strange, but after not having a schedule for two weeks it really didn’t faze me.  The other weird part is that my two real classes are both 6-8pm and I have never taken evening classes before and only even a couple that end after 4.  Math I is a grad level math class taught by a professor from RIT-NY, but it’s just all review of things I have been doing since the beginning of high school.  Even better than that is the glass grade is 60% homework.

 

12/6

For the first time since I got to Dubai I had gone to bed before 3AM to try to drag myself out of bed in time for my only morning class: Islam & Culture.  We packed onto our shuttle bus to campus filling every single seat including the fold out seats that block the isle for the usual nauseating ride to the pineapple.  The Islam & Culture class was fairly disappointing.  Our group of Americans were the only ones in the class and the teacher generally hasn’t talked about Islam yet but spent the class talking about the word “culture” and saying that you can’t really define it.

I headed back to EA on the bus and decided to go for a run in the heat of the day.  Unfortunately there’s nowhere good to run around here so I tried to run on some paths through the empty desert lot in front of EA.  I made it less than two miles before I gave up trying to run in powdery sand above my ankles.

Back to the pineapple for Renewable Energy Systems.  Luckily it’s actually a class that’s seems good.  I can understand what the professor says (unlike both of the other two classes) and it’s actually interesting (unlike both of the other two classes) so it should be good.

When I got back to EA kids were heading out to play soccer so I got to play soccer for the first time in ages.   Playing with a bunch of Kazaks made it feel just like Rochester.  Wearing my flats on the field didn’t mix well with wet grass, but I could still run in a straight line.  Pretty happy about scoring 2 goals in the first five minutes but I must have used up all my skill because that was where it ended.

 

12/7

For the first and possibly only time of my college life something happened.  Something so amazing and unheard of that if RIT-NY found out they would surely shut down RIT-Dubai and fail everyone who came here.  We had a holiday.  The Islamic New Year fell on Tuesday and we actually had a day off.  We decided to go to Wild Wadi, the water park next to the Burj Al Arab.  The Burj Al Arab is the world’s tallest all suite hotel.  The heli-pad has hosted Tiger Woods driving a golf ball off it as well as a tennis match between Federer and Agassi.

Wild Wadi didn’t quite have as many rides as most water parks but had one distinctly great feature: uphill water slides.  Why walk to the top and slide down when you can hop on a tube and have water jets launch you up slides and around bends until you get to the top and ride down? For the more thrilling ride there was the Jumeirah Sceirah on which you have to cross ams and legs to rocket down the slide with near vertical sections.  There were even two attractions with fake waves to ride boogie boards on.  They even had a fish pedicure place.

When we got back to EA I got people together to play Volleyball.  I doubted whether anyone was actually going to play but we ended up having as many as 20 people at one point.  There’s hope for group activities/sports!

 

12/8

Today was another unspectacular day of class.  Islam & Culture was the same.  He spent the entire class talking about the definition of culture again then assigned a five page essay on it due Monday.  It’s a wonderful thing to be auditing a class because I’m sure not writing that.  RE Systems was good, but nothing to special.  The highlight of the day came between classes when a friend gave me a ride to the mall and I got new cleats, no more sliding around playing soccer.

Voila, I’m all up to date!  Now I need to go do more fun stuff.


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.


The Legendary First Post

Well I finally started a blog and it’s only one study abroad too late.  A note to anyone who care’s about grammar, punctuation, or spelling:  read a book.  For those who just care about the ramblings of restless adventurer of life read Into the Wild.  For those who want to read what I write, well, you’re on the right track so far.  It’s already been a week in Dubai and a lot has happened but I’ll try to catch up so here it goes, but first a few words from Robert W. Service.

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

 

Part I – Journey to Dubai 11/29-11/30

Started the trip on the wrong foot when I got to security in Boston and the TSA girl said “That water bottle is empty right?” of course it was, I always bring an empty bottle to fill after security.  But it wasn’t.  It was either dump it and wait the line again, throw away my sig bottle, or what I ended up doing.  That was chug a liter of water in 20 seconds.  That was fun, so was going to the bathroom before my flight, onboard before we took off, and again just after take off.

After that it was boring.  Watched movies and couldnt really sleep.  The one bit of excitement came toward the end of the flight after I woke up from a falling asleep for 15 minutes (the longest nap I had).  There was a kid who looked my age laying on the floor by the bathroom (I was only 1 seat back from it) with an I-V in his arm and 6 people standing around him.  I don’t know what happened for sure but I guess he had multiple seizures.  Someone said that there was some kind of emergency at the front of the plane too but I never saw anything.  We almost had to reroute to stop in England but they had stabilized seizure-boy enough so we kept going.  Due to this we got there late.  Amsterdam was a huge disappointment.  That’s because I didn’t go.  My 5hr45min stop just wasn’t long enough after seizure-boy, customs, and the hour (and ~30€) round trip.

Amsterdam to Dubai was much better, it wasn’t filled so I got window and aisle seats to myself.  I made sure not to sleep so I would be able to when I got to Dubai and just watched movies and read.  We flew over Iraq, exciting, does that mean I can say I’ve been there now?  Unfortunately I don’t think so.

Got off the plane at 11:10, through passport control (even though I didn’t know the name of the place im staying) and customs (…after they made me pull out my climbing gear and explain 10 times that it’s for rock climbing…that whole concept confused them, I don’t think they believed people climb rocks) by 11:40, meet up with the shuttle and had to wait for another kid who didn’t even get in until 12 after all (damn you Stan!).  Got back here after 1AM and met my roommate and hung out with him and a few other kids from Etisalat Academy (aka EA, our dorm/hotel that where kids from several other colleges stay).

Slept in today (Wed 12/1) then went to RIT Dubai to get orientated.  RIT Dubai is in the Silicon Oasis, an area being developed just outside of Dubai.  Have a shuttle that goes back and forth a few times a day.  We have the bottom two floors of one of the several wings in “the pineapple building” but are moving to our own building just after christmas.  Nothing too special there, just telling us about how things work here.  Apparently everything we were told by people in Rochester was completely wrong.

After that we went to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant in the Mall of the Emirates.  It’s a HUGE mall that has everything from a ski field to a hotel.  Our restaurant looked out on Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slope.  The food I could eat was great, best dolmas I have ever had.  Of course, the only things I could eat were the dolmas, pita, hummus, and tabbouleh.  The ski slop was better than it looked in the picture, it actually continues around the corner and up a bit more.  Still nothing special, but possible worth the money to go for the novelty and since it might be my only chance this winter.

Anyway, I’ve been here for a week and that was just the first day so I’ll catch up more later.