Munich

After we visited Prague our plan was to head south to see Carolin’s aunt and sister in Munich. We rented another car and posted up a little outside of Munich at Caro’s sister’s house. But before we made it to the house, we were meeting Cathrin at a medieval jousting tournament. Yes that’s right, a jousting tournament. We pulled up to this endless grass field with probably over a thousand other cars. Most of the time this village has permanent structures and a beer garden. There’s also a castle, and an arena for training horses. During this time of year there are traditional renaissance tents set up where the workers stay in. For 3 weeks, once a year a menagerie of medieval enthusiasts come together to put on a jousting show, followed by an array of medieval/ renaissance activities. Once the show ended we walked around the village and checked out some of the goods for sale. You can buy swords, crossbows, jewelry, horns to drink beer out of, armor, etc. it’s actually more of a renaissance fair that follows the show. There’s different stages set up for different performers. Whether it’s a juggling act, or a hardcore gothic medieval punk band or a fire dance, they have it all. Caro and I really didn’t know what to expect when we showed up but it was a really interesting and vivid experience to say the least. Afterwards, we set out down the road to Cats house and crashed there for the night. The next day we set out to visit a store called the globe trotter. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s very familiar to an REI store back in the states mixed with Bass Pro Shops. Just for the record, anybody who knows me also knows that I spend days in these stores. I pretty much geek out on everything related to camping and/or gadgets I’ll probably never use outdoors. So with that being said we set aside a couple hours so we could explore the rain simulator station to try out different jackets and such, the high altitude training chamber, the 30 by 30 pool to kayak in, and the room with ice blocks as big as a Great Dane to try out negative temperature clothing. Actually we just tried some shoes on but they do have all those things there and it is a very cool store.

After the globe trotter we visited the standing wave in downtown Munich. It’s called the Eisbach river and it hosts a world renowned standing wave that brings in a pretty hefty crowd during the summer months. Last year Carolin and I saw the wave but we didn’t have our own gear to try it out. This time we did so we gave it a shot and it was not easy at all. It’s actually unlike anything I’ve ever done. I would go so far to say its a different sport from surfing all together. Nonetheless, it was super fun to surf in landlocked Munich and I’ll definitely go back and give it a try. Which is exactly what I did two days later. Our friend Steve, from France we stayed with hooked us up with with his buddy who basically pioneered river surfing in Germany. He showed me a few things and gave me some really good pointers on how to look at the river differently from an actual ocean wave and how to approach it. We had a blast surfing there and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Munich.

We also visited the Pinakothek der Moderne (modern art museum) with Cathrin and Carolin’s aunt Monica. We spent most of the day there checking out all kinds of different pieces. There was an interesting exhibit that had some of the first computers from the early 80’s and certain advances in technology during that time. It was fun going to the museum with Cat and Monica because they’re both so knowledgable about the art in the museum. It was also great to drive around with them because they would point out certain buildings and explain the history behind them. I personally felt like we got a little more out of the city when we where with them.

Munich is a fascinating city with a lot to offer. We only spent a few days there but with Caro’s family living there, it’s only a matter of time before we’re back. Time to push on towards Belgium and Great Britain.

Germany

Home sweet home!! Needless to say, I was über excited to be home & I think Rex felt a sigh of relief to be back in a familiar place! It was a weight of our back, no planning, no figuring out where things where, how to get there, what to do, when to be there and no budgeting for a few days! It was glorious, it was marvelous, it was a true treat!!! Being greeted by my papa with a 4 pack of German beer was a cherry on top! For a few days, Rex and I had our own room with a good bed, a kitchen and a fridge full of food and we took full advantage of it. We started to plan the next part of our trip, raided my dads camping gear, picked his brain on the best driving routes and must sees in the south western part of Europe. Information was abundant and slowly our plan came together for where we were going to head next.

We had planned to be in Germany to also co-inside with the 1 year anniversary of my mothers death, so this part of our trip was a double edge sword. I am grateful for all the things that my mother provided for me and my family, she is one of the main inspirations we ended up on this trip, life is too short to not live it to the fullest and to dream big! I do miss her everyday though! I am so happy I got to spend the day with Rex, my Papa and sister at my mothers tree in Limburgerhof! We dearly missed my brother and his wife but they were busy adding a new addition to our family!

We also got a chance to catch up with some of my close friends from home, my aunt and uncle, neighborhood friends and of course Wrinkles!! The days flew by and before we knew it, we were en route to Switzerland and France!!

Portugal Extras…

Nepal and Base Camp Everest trek

Before we left for Kathmandu we had done a little research about what to expect when we arrive. Usually, it’s been nice to know things like how far our hostel or hotel is from the airport, or if somebody is going to try and swindle us as soon as we step out onto the street. In the case of Kathmandu and the couple things we found out before our arrival…well, something that stood out that we haven’t really encountered yet was the fact that Kathmandu has rolling blackouts where they lose power for a number of hours (up to 16hrs). Coming from Kuala Lumpur and flying on Malaysia airlines definitely turned my senses up a notch and considering they’re recent history of missing planes, yeah, I was a little nervous to say the least. Traveling through Asia for a couple months and seeing how some airlines prepare they’re flights had instilled a little more fear in me, and to tell you the truth I have lost confidence in some of those airlines. Fast forward to our landing situation in Kathmandu. Usually when you start landing you can see some lights or a glow through the clouds. I knew we were close but I could not see anything. For a minute I thought, holy shit! We’re landing in the ocean somewhere! Then I thought, no that’s impossible, we’re landing in Kathmandu but there’s no power at the airport! Either way I didn’t see lights until we were on the ground and it scared the crap out of me. (This increase in fear of flying the last couple months will play a part later in this post btw).

We made it into Kathmandu and were picked up by our lead guide Raj who would be organizing and informing us about our base camp everest trek. Our first night we met up with Rob and Anuba who were on the navimag with us from puerto montt to puerto natales in chile a couple months prior. We had some beers and they gave us some pointers for Kathmandu. In October last year we booked the everest base camp trek and Carolin’s sister Cathrin agreed to join us. For three days we spent our time getting last minute gear and enjoying the sites in the Thamel area.

A family friend of Caro’s donates to a school in Kathmandu for underprivileged children ages 2-7 and they put us in contact with them. The three of us were picked up by someone from the school and we visited with the kids for a couple hours. They showed us how the Montessori learning system works and how the children benefit in their own unique situations. It was the first time I’d seen the Montessori system work and if you don’t know about it, in a nutshell it’s a system that gets kids together from different age groups and they learn through educational materials instead of direct instruction. They’re free to move around as they please and can choose which activities they want with long blocks of time to advance at their own pace. I’m sure there is much more to this type of learning but this is just what we saw. It was really cool to hang with the kids and check the program out. They took us to the monkey temple that overlooks Kathmandu and Patan Durbar Square.

We experienced the rawness of Kathmandu and both agreed it was one of the most chaotic places we’ve been yet. Kathmandu, geographically sits within a bowl surrounded by mountains. There’s lots of traffic and lots of people. I’m not sure exactly how it works but it creates this bio-dome of smog and air pollution that you can actually feel in your lungs. The air feels stagnant and ideally it’s probably not the best place to hang right before you trek to everest base camp. We were already coming from zero altitude and trying to acclimate even at a somewhat low elevation like Kathmandu is a difficult feat. So our plan for Nepal in general was to stay in Kathmandu for a couple days, start our hike up to base camp that would take in total about 2 weeks and then finish in Kathmandu for another couple days.

I knew a couple months prior we would be needing to take a small plane to a somewhat sketchy airport to start the trek, although once we were in Kathmandu I started hearing things like “worlds most dangerous airport” and “crashes are frequent” and “never fly domestically in Nepal”. Well, it turns out all the rumors are true. The planes are super old and I did myself the favor (worst idea ever) and looked up everything I could about how bad the flights were and and why it’s rated the most dangerous airport to fly into. We were warned that if the weather was even slightly bad in Lukla, the plane would not fly. Up until about 2 years ago, planes that flew to Lukla in bad weather would find themselves either turning around to Kathmandu or flying blindly in clouds and fog. The problem is when you’re landing you have sheer cliffs underneath you and all around the airport. If you miss calculate the landing, well…I think it’s safe to say you get one shot at it. The plane gets flown visually, so no computers just the experience of the pilot and his 2 eyes. The airport itself is at 2,900 meters, or about 9,400 feet. Cat said once we landed she didn’t hear me say one word for the 24 hours prior. I was so happy to be alive after that flight and I also found out how sweaty my hands could get. Caro for once in her life seemed oddly okay with this small plane and viewed this whole thing more like a roller coaster ride than a death trap and cat had a scared look in her eye but was giggling like a lil school girl. The landing strip is not flat by the way. It sits at a 12 degree slant. Once you see the pictures below you will understand my fear and hopefully it gives you an idea of what we went through.

From the Lukla airport we pretty much start hiking. Everybody who either goes to the top of Mt. Everest or just the base camp starts hiking in Lukla. We spent the next 7-8 days or so slowly climbing up town by town. The first day was fairly easy. The second day was a little more interesting. Cathrin has a slight fear of heights and/or hanging bridges. We crossed I think 4 or 5 bridges and they were actually pretty high. We had to develop a strategy for Cat so she could feel a little more at ease. I would walk in front of her holding her hiking poles in one hand at the same time I would kind of be pulling her forward. Carolin would focus on substitution and diversion and just start asking as many questions as she could to Cat. It seemed to work pretty well except for the fact that whatever question Caro asked Cat, Cat would respond off topic and would create her own elaborate answer that really didn’t have anything to do with the original question. The real challenge for was on the second day. We crossed the highest walking bridge I’ve ever seen. If I were to guess how high it was, I’d say at least 180 maybe 200 feet in the air. Our strategy seemed to be working fine until half way through the bridge a dog who decided to join us on the crossing stopped in between my legs and then Cat’s. I looked through the metal slats and saw how far we really were from the river and actually had to concentrate on crossing this thing. For a split second I felt uneasy about it but there was no way I could say anything in front of Cat that doubted my ability to cross or my slight increase in heart rate. Again, see pictures for full effect.

Everyday we hiked a little higher and a little further. We became more aware of our environment and the lack of oxygen. You start paying attention to everybody else’s condition and once someone says they have a headache or they’re stomach hurts your ears definitely perk up. It’s kind of a bit unreal sometimes. You start your hike closer to 10,000 ft high and the whole time there are just these massive daunting mountains all around you. Altitude sickness is no joke. Everybody reacts a little differently too. Some people show light symptoms and some people none at all. Our goal was everest base camp and that sits at about 5,300 meters or 17,500 ft.

Along our trek we would hike to tea houses in small villages along the trail. Some are nicer then others but they all kind of consist of the same construction. Plywood and rocks. No real insulation in the walls because there’s only 1 sheet of plywood connecting rooms. Most places had toilets but some just had holes in the ground but there was always a distinct toilet smell. They all have beds but since it gets freezing at night, your below zero sleeping bags are a must. Breakfast lunch and dinner are all served at different locations depending on where we are staying but it was a strict diet of vegetables, eggs, cookies, and rice. We had plenty of options and although steak and chicken were on the menu, it wasn’t advisable to eat any of it. The reason for this is the area surrounding Everest , the khumbu valley and all of the national park are a protected area for the animals which means no killing. All the meat comes from a town below Lukla which is a 6 day hike. Then the meat takes another couple days to make it up to the different tea houses. There’s no roads. It’s all hiked in on somebody’s back. We saw one of the guys who does it too and he wasn’t hiking with a refrigerator on his back either (even though he could have) the meat was all out in the open. Only covered by the other meat in his woven wicker basket.

Our hiking crew consisted of 11 of us and a head guide (Raj) and his assistant (Depak). It was a mixed bunch mostly from the US and from what I thought we all hiked at a pretty good pace. For almost 2 weeks we all hiked and ate and hung out together. We conversed and told stories and really it’s amazing how we all found ourselves wanting to hike this mountain. Everybody has their own story and reason for why they were there.

The first week or so was pretty routine. Like I said before we hiked a little further, a little higher, and a little harder each day. One thing we encountered that was a possibility in everybody’s head but I don’t think we were really expecting was snow. We all expected to see snow and for it to be cold. We all knew the weather could change drastically in a matter of minutes and as far as our gear goes, we were all pretty much prepared but if you went back and asked everybody….. We all were probably missing one or two items we needed for this next bit I’m about to explain. It snowed on us one day when we were doing an acclimation hike to 5,100 meters/ 16,700 ft. At about 4,800 meters it started getting steep and slippery. Some of us turned around because if we were slipping going up then for sure we’d be slipping going down and possibly into a hole or worse sprain or break an ankle. Raj told us that we’d gone high enough to acclimate and down we went. The other half that felt comfortable, continued up. That night I remember thinking, if we get any more snow it’s going to make the rest of the way very difficult for us. The next day we hiked through snow the majority of the day. At times you couldn’t see more then 30 feet in front of you and it didn’t look like it was letting up any time soon. At this elevation hiking is one thing, but when you add snow into the mix it becomes a whole different experience. Everything becomes just a little bit harder. I think we were all hoping that night that it would be clear skies the next morning and the trail would be clear. We made it to lebouche which is now at 5000 meters and most of us were complaining about some form of altitude sickness or another. One person says their head hurts, one person says they have a stomach ache etc. Not to mention the prior 3 days plus or minus, some of us had trouble sleeping. Trying to sleep at 16,500 ft. can be a little difficult. It was common for Caro and I to wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. Full on, sitting up in bed, and gasping. When you get up to go to the bathroom and try getting in your sleeping bag, by the time you get back in your struggling for air. Little movements and flurries of activity leave you just parched and exhausted. The lack of oxygen at that altitude is definitely noticeable.

The next mornings plan was to hike up to a village called Gorek Shep which is about 2 hours away and then another 2 hours to base camp everest and then back down to sleep at Gorek Shep. Unfortunately, we woke up to another white out outside. There wasn’t anybody outside and it was about 6 in the morning. We geared up to make the push to Gorek Shep and as soon as we left our tea house in Lebouche our guide and his assistant blazed the trail. In fact, there was no trail. We were hiking through thigh deep fresh powder at 16,500 ft. and it was taking us forever. It was exhausting and actually quite frustrating. We hiked for 2 hours and had gone about a mile at most. The amount of ground we covered if there had been no snow would have taken us 30 minutes and at the rate we were going it was looking like it was going to take all day just to get to Gorek Shep. We stopped, had some words about whether or not it was going to be worth it. Raj was trying to get our porters to blaze the trail and they didn’t want to so they sat under a rock and said “this is crazy and it’s not worth it”. We had other groups pilling up behind us and their guide was telling us that if anybody gets sick up further there will be no rescue because the weather was so bad and no helicopter can fly. At the same time groups started coming down from Gorek Shep and told us one of the hotel owners is coming down and he closed his place because he was afraid of how much snow was on his roof and it might cave in on itself. Some groups came down and said everything is fine. One guy even had a weather report that said it might clear in the morning. Half of our group wanted to push through and at one point when our guide was asked what he wanted to do he said “I don’t want to die”. The whole situation was very confusing and emotional. Carolin wanted to go up, I wanted to go down, and we didn’t have a whole lot of time to discuss our options. To put it in perspective, we’re up in a snow storm at 5,100 meters and we’re weighing the option of hiking up further and risking our lives, or turning around and playing it safe. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. I personally lost faith in our guide because there was no reassurance that what we were doing was safe or not. Telling us he didn’t want to die was a very direct message but somewhere in all that there was a communication breakdown. He also allowed members of our group to blaze the trail for the rest of us. I don’t have a problem with them blazing the trail but more so our guide for not staying in front and being more assertive. In my eyes the only two people I wanted to follow up to base camp was our guide Raj and his assistant. When your guide stops guiding, that sending a pretty clear message. Anyways, I had my reasons and Carolin had hers. She felt like we had enough info to at least make it to Gorek Shep. The clouds were also starting to clear. At this point Raj had told us that base camp was out of the question for that day and it was going to be determined by the weather the next day. The group was split. Half went down and the other half went up. Caro and I were with the group that went up. Cathrin went down. I did not want to go and was a little pissed at Caro for not listening to our guides warnings. She was pissed at me for coming all this way and not listening to the other signs that said we would make it. Again, it was a very difficult decision to make and even harder when you feel responsible for somebody’s safety and you think you’re right. It felt like we didn’t know who to put our trust in anymore and it became more of a personal choice. It didn’t take long before we separated ourselves from the group and turned around. We hiked back to Lebouche and by the time we were half way back the sun was completely out and the clouds had lifted. It was like a sick joke Mother Earth had played on us.

The rest of the afternoon was a little tense to say the least around Lebouche. We had lunch with the rest of the group and Caro looked at me and said “I want to try and go back up”. Almost exactly at that moment the rescue helicopter made three landings to pick people up who had been sick the last three days and could not get evacuated. All afternoon the helicopter was making runs to rescue people in Gorek Shep. I told Caro that I’d have to go with her and she refused. At one point she saw a horse and seriously considered hiring it to ride up to Gorek. It was a crazy crazy day. We asked our guide to call up to Gorek to see if we had time to hike up on our own and he said it was impossible for us to make it in time. Just like that it was done. We had to sit tight and that was that. Later that night we heard that the rest of the group made it to base camp that same day.

In the morning the next day we got word that Raj was coming down and that most of the other half of the group got really sick. If everything had gone to plan, we would have been hiking to Kala Patar which is actually higher then base camp but it gives you the view of everest that base camp does not. Two of the girls that made it to base camp attempted it with our assistant guide but barely made it a quarter of the way up because of the snow. We started our decent down to a lower camp and met up with the other half of the group. The two girls looked fine although I think we were all complaining about headaches but the guys that went up looked like they got hit by a train. They all had been throwing up all night and couldn’t hold any food down at all. They weren’t back to normal until we were back down in Kathmandu a couple days later. Either way I’m glad we made the decision to come down that day. At the height we were at and the stress we were putting on our bodies, it’s for real. It’s not something to take lightly. It’s too easy to let the thought of yourself standing at the top of a mountain get in the way of the real dangers that are very much apparent. Your pride is your biggest enemy in my eyes up there. Other people can make their own choices up there and that’s fine. I’m really proud of Carolin for making the choice to turn around. I know it was a tough pill to swallow for her and it was for me too but all in all I think it was the right thing to do (I am still not sure if she agrees :)).

We took a couple days to come down to Lukla and had another wild plane ride back to Kathmandu where we spent the last four days going on walking tours, shopping, and getting rings made…..( more detail in next post )

Nepal was a crazy and beautiful place. It made us appreciate all we have and how fortunate we are to be on this trip together. There have only been a couple places so far on this trip where we’ve really felt out of our element and Nepal was definitely one of those places. Sometimes words can’t describe what you see and how you feel. No matter how much we try and explain how something is elsewhere, it doesn’t do it justice. We’ve realized that depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going has an effect on your trip. Sometimes the country you were just in is more raw then the one you’re going to. That has a huge impact on what you experience. Caro and I came to a crossroad up there. In a strange way it was the hardest decision we’ve made as a couple to turn around and to sit with our choice. If that’s the hardest thing we’ve had to decide then I’d say we’re doing pretty good. Nepal was amazing! All I can say is, we will absolutely be coming back.

 

Vietnam

Hanoi

“Welcomeeee to Viettttnammmmmm!!!” Is what keeps on repeating itself in my head from the moment we landed in Hanoi! Obviously I am not the only one, considering from the second you land you can buy t-shirts, hats and tanks with the saying!
Needless to say, we finally felt like we were really in S.E. Asia!
From chaotic (I might even say suicidal) driving, to dirty, loud, crazy madness, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Nothing makes sense but somehow everything works.
We headed to my dearest friend Camilla’s house in Hanoi. The directions alone were amazing : ” Take a cab and he will probably drop you off somewhere around the Army Guest House because there are about half a dozen or more of houses with the same address as my house. From there follow this map and hopefully you will find it. If not call me! ”
Luckily Camilla was home by the time we got there because I think it would have taken us a couple hours to find her apartment. She welcomed us open armed with a couple bottles of red wine in her arsenal!
For you who don’t know Camilla- I have known her since I was a baby. Our parents have been friends since they were in their 20s if not earlier. Camilla visited me in Newport about 3 years ago and was actually with me when Rex and I had our first “hearts fly around our heads” moment. She was also with us on our “first” date.
After catching up into the wee hours of the morning with some amazing wine and food we crashed out!

We spent the following day jetting all over Hanoi. Here’s a “brief” run down.
Stop 1- Food- We started the day by eating the best pho I have ever had in my life, in a local hole in the wall joint on mini benches, squished together way past capacity.
Stop 2- Planning – We carried on with a tuk tuk threw the old quarter to Miss Ly travel agency (missly1@hotmail.com). Since we have started we have become pretty relaxed about our travel plans (some might even call it lazy). We just book our flights a couple weeks before hand and figure out the rest as we go. Miss Ly helped us get our following week sorted. She is amazing and we highly recommend her. After 1 hr of picking, sorting and booking we were ready for a coffee/beer.
Stop 3- Creepy Coffee- In a nut shell you walk threw a random knockoff bag store to the back, threw some dark dingy stair cases and you end up in this room filled with smoke, and people sitting on mini chairs slugging Vietnamese coffee and eating sunflower seeds. Needless to say dirt cheap and amazing! Think: Whipped sugar egg whites mixed with chocolate expresso like coffee!
Stop 4- Beer!
We wandered the streets of old quarter, filled with people, terrifying electrical work, crazy motorcycles drivers, amazing street food and sidewalks filled with mini tables/chairs and people chugging beer.
We plopped down at one of Camilla’s favorite spots and let the people watching begin. Impeccable service (your beer was full the moment you finished it) and weird food made the experience complete. After a couple hours, Camilla’s good friend Tip (or “future” husband made an appearance). He is a local guy with an interesting story which is worthy of a whole other post, but to sum it up he is a winner of the best bartender in Vietnam award in 2013.
Stop 5- More Food & Beer – We continued on with eating/drinking our way threw Hanoi’s street food vendors at one of Tips favorite places, fried rice with sweet and sour veggies! Tip continued telling us crazy stories and we enjoyed the evening as the sun went under and rain began.
Stop 6 – Pho Cocktail – since Tip won the bartender of the year award he had quite the following in Hanoi/Vientam and had his own signature drink- the pho cocktail. We headed to a friends rooftop bar to experience this drink and see how the drink is made. It is a full on story and was super cool! See picture!
Stop 7- Dancing- Hair of the Dog Club- 9 pm you enter into a building thinking it will be completely dead, since it is 9 pm but you are greeted with a cloud of smoke of cigs/shisha, a thumping bass and shoulder to shoulder packed club. Tip arranged for a private table and the fist pumping began (incld. Birkenstock and a bag of fruit since we hadn’t be home since the morning, that was a definite first!!!) 3 hours later and after chugging drinks “100%” (come to learn,Vietnamese don’t sip there drinks, they pound them back to back till you can’t walk) we got spat out by this club !!
Stop 8- Nightcap – Camilla was ready to rumble and we were off to another bar, that didn’t last very long due to the 12 am closure of bars/ clubs! There are some places that bend the rules due to “good relations” with the police but we were exhausted!

Next morning was spent in bed and lounging and going to an italian lunch for Easter Sunday! It was odd expierence being in Vietnam surrounded by Italians, in a court yard that resembled Italy with the best gnocchi I have ever eaten. Fast forward to the evening and we are at a Vietnamese/Korean BBQ joint eating… Guess what? The best BBQ I have ever eaten. You get the drift… We are eating our ways threw Vietnam and it’s so worth it!
The following day was Camilla’s birthday. We were busy getting ready for the shinding that was to be held for the birthday girl and we spend the evening celebrating with Camilla and her international group of friends, till the wee hours of the morning.

Halong Bay

The next morning Caro and I were scheduled to drive 4 hours east to Halong Bay. We jumped on a ferry boat, then to a semi-cruise boat without all the luxuries of what you’re probably expecting. The boat was basically held together by paint and grime. The rooms had a hint of urine sent in them and the shower had wires hanging out of the walls so I personally opted out of the hot water bit. To put our expectations in perspective, most of the tours to Halong Bay in Hanoi are advertised as,”come and swim in the majestic emerald waters of Halong Bay and discover the untouched beauty of the region”. To get a couple things straight, it’s not untouched, the waters are not emerald, there’s trash everywhere!!! There’s boats everywhere. We felt like we were being rushed through the tour and our horrendous guide couldn’t answer one question regarding anything outside of her rehearsed, scripted little bubble. It was disappointing to say the least. Every once in a while we would look beyond the trash and all the damage that’s been done and you could get a glimpse of the beauty.

Our plan was to spend one night on the boat and one night on Catba Island. The first day we saw a cave, we rode kayaks (for a time limit of 20 min) then we went to Ti Top island. I think I’m still trying to figure out why Ti Top island is the way it is. I know it was named after a former Soviet Union hero astronaut, and I know that bit of history is somewhat interesting but I don’t understand the attraction I guess. We didn’t have very good weather either so that adds to the effect. In my opinion, nobody should be swimming in the same area as the drop off point from all the boats. When you can see the oil/gas film on the surface, you don’t go in. We stayed the night on the boat and in the morning we visited a pearl farm. The farm was interesting although again, a little disappointing. We never knew how pearls were made but now we do. Since the oysters have to be pried open and pearl placed inside. A shocking 60-70% of the oysters will either reject, and/or develop some kind of illness that ultimately kills them. I’m no sales expert but I’m pretty sure if you want to sell lots of pearls, you don’t tell everybody how many oysters died in the process of making them. Anyways, the good news is, is that we changed boats after the pearl farm and with that came a great new guide and a bunch of rowdy guys from Australia. Instantaneously our spirits lifted and the second half of our Halong Bay trip looked like it was about to get a lot more interesting.

We rode bicycles around Catba island through a local village, our guide took us to a local woman’s house and we drank some local rice wine that knocked our socks off and put even more unneeded hair on my chest. We were then dropped off at the main harbor at Catba and taken to our less then exciting hotel. Our time for the next 24 hours was our own to explore the island. Caro and I rented a motorbike and went straight to the national park to do some hiking which was interesting to say the least. We didn’t see anybody else there. There wasn’t really any signs guiding us, and after about 2 hours or so the trail became very narrow and very loud. Every time something fell out of a tree or brushed up against my leg I thought it was a snake or some kind of giant bug. The loudness was caused by a bug called a cicada. It makes a high pitched ringing sound that at times can be extremely loud and almost disorienting. We saw some beautiful scenery and realized jungle hiking is much different then mountain hiking.

We visited a place called hospital cave that was used to treat injured Vietcong during the war. We only spent 15 minutes there but it was the highlight of Halong bay for sure. The cave itself is tucked away on a sheer cliff. There’s a little metal door that opens up to a long dark hall way with rooms. It’s three stories high and there’s also a pool on one of the levels that Ho Chi Minh himself used to swim in. I think the engineering of this place is what surprised us. Perfectly squared off concrete corners and almost kind of modern in a way. If you ever get a chance to go to Catba island, check out hospital cave. We had dinner with the Australian guys that night and the next morning made our way back to Hanoi.

Halong Bay is an amazing place. Its a beautiful area of Vietnam and it has potential to be an even more amazing destination, but it needs to be taken care of more. They’ve figured out how to make money off the place and herd people in and out of there all day but there’s little pride shown. As a result of this, the park suffers. Although we had a subpar tour guide and were disappointed with the condition of the bay we had a great time. There are many different ways to see the bay and there are many different tour companies offering different packages. Some people we talked to had a more private tour and said nothing but great things about their boat and the places they saw. It really just depends on what tour you go with and if you get a good guide or not. The next couple years will be interesting at Halong. Hopefully they realize that taking care of there backyard will ultimately benefit them in the future.

Sapa

Come to our first overnight train, Hanoi —> Sapa. It was such an unexpected pleasant surprise. The plus side of trains is that you don’t have to worry about your bags being stolen as easily as on an overnight train. There are stops but you have your bags with you in your cabin, so really the only threat are the people in the cabin with you and the possibility of you sleeping threw your stop (luckily not the case in Sapa since the train ends there.

We slept like babies and got in only 3 hours delayed. We met up with our private tour guide that Camilla set us up with and we were off on our 2-day hike.
Starting out, we were walking with a bunch of other tourists, we saw Cat Cat Village and before we knew it we were hoping over rice paddies, balancing on mud damns, nativating water canals and jumping over massive mud puddles with no other people in sight. This was the moment we knew we had made the right decision to go with our traditionally dressed private guide, Ms. Su Linh for a whopping $20 more than a large guided group and we knew the money went all to her. Best decision yet!!!
Ms. Su Linh’s english was, to say the least, impeccable in comparison to our previous guides and the remarkable part is that she taught it herself.

A little background on Ms. Su Linh :
Age: 21
Weight: 40kg (LBS)
Height: maybe on a good day 5’1″
Kids: 2
Married : since 16
Education Level: 4th grade
Languages: 5 (3 fluid, 2 semi-fluid)
Tribe: Black Hmong Tribe

We spent the day hiking along the hillside paddies and in general just really enjoying the view and conversations we had with Ms. Su Linh. She had so much information to share and it was so easy to speak to her. I felt like she legitatimly wanted to share her way of life with us. We hiked 16 km in the boiling heat and ended up at Ms Su Lyn’s aunties house in their remote village. The place could have slept 16 people but we were only 4 foreigners to sleep there. It was also the only home stay in a 20 mile radius.
To describe the house, it was concrete floor partial concrete walls, some wooden panels which were not water/wind proof. In the US we would consider it more of a hut or barn than a house. She had 4 proper beds downstairs and upstairs 5 mattresses on the floor. All had curtains and mosquito nets for protection and privacy. Even though it was very basic it was one of the homiest and coolest places I have ever stayed at. Luckily we had a shower with hot water and a western toilet, its the small things in life, right?
Once dinner time came around a collapsable table was pulled out and in no time a feast was presented to us (+home made rice wine) with the whole family (think: grama/grampa/kids/aunts/husbands) right next to our bed. After a evening filled with “one more? “ and stories exchanged, we passed out just to be woken up by the double doors flinging open by the wind (think: movie “what you did last summer” where murder stands in rain and doors flings open and lighting is behind him) and hearing massive thunder. We looked under our bed and a river had started to flow threw the entire house. Frantic running combined with shuffling of things ensued for the next 30 minutes, as the other couple got moved from upstairs into the only other dry bed in the house which was also Aunt’s bed. We are still not sure where Ms. Su Linhs
Aunt slept. Rex and I agreed that we both had never been threw such a violent thunderstorm (that wasn’t a hurricane). The lighting seemed to be continues as well as the constant rumbling of the thunder. It was an eventful night.

Next morning we woke up to perfect weather and continued on with our hike,only 9 km left, passing a few waterfalls and more and more tourist. We also stopped at Ms. Su Linh house which was the biggest eye opener yet. See pictures below, they speak more than words. We learned about the cost of going to school, how little it cost but how impossible of an idea it is for most people of the area since they do not earn enough money. We saw the first had impact of tourism which isn’t always good, and i can honestly say i wanted to stay and help these families. I hope to one day return and continue to share knowledge, educate and be of service to these amazing people.
To top the end of this adventure off we took motor taxi’s back to Sapa which was the scariest thing to date that we have done. Next thing we knew we were on our way back to the train station to catch our overnight train back to Hanoi.

Overall Sapa was one of our highlights, I learned so much about the indigenous tribes, there way of life and their crafts (indigo hemp clothing, which i am obsessing over). I learned how to stitch their traditional fabrics, how they prepare the hemp to be woven into cloth, how they indigo dye the fabrics and everything else between. We tried on traditional clothing and jewelry, ate amazing food and had great conversations.
I would highly recommend Ms. Su Linh and her family. If you guys are interested in booking something with her, just give her a call 0166668651 and she can arrange it all for you 🙂

If you can’t tell by the length of this post, Vietnam left an impression on us. Its such a place of rawness and so much culture, you don’t really know what to do with yourself. We felt utterly exhausted and as if we got eaten up and spat out. This has been a first for us on our trip, which is actually surprising.

Phong Nha

After our amazing time in Sapa we took the overnight train back to Hanoi and waited around until 10 pm to catch another overnight train to Dong Hoi or (phong nha). That is south of Hanoi for anybody who doesn’t know. It’s almost central Vietnam and only about 5 kilometers away from the country of Laos. The town of Phong Nha has been on the radar only for a couple years depending on who you talk to. If you’ve heard about the discovery of the worlds largest cave in the last 3-5 years, you’ve more then likely been reading about phong nha and it’s surrounding areas. Phong nha is starting to gain traction as a tourist destination and is slowly but surely becoming one of the worlds top picks for outdoorsman and backpackers. We posted up at a place called the Pepper house Homestay in the middle of the country side. From there we rented motorbikes and rode around the national park visiting some of the biggest caves I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t long after riding around we realized we maybe should’ve booked a couple more days here. Paradise cave was the first stop and we were blown away instantly. We hiked almost a mile into the cave. It actually goes another 6 kilometers deeper but you need a guide. After paradise cave we rode our motorbikes to dark cave. Here we jumped on a couple kayaks with nothing but life jackets, and construction helmets with headlamps attached. After a couple minutes we kayaked into a massive cave. We all hiked in for a couple minutes, ditched the life jackets and started walking through the cracks in the walls. Eventually the cracks turned into very tight crevices. At the beginning of this excursion, nobody really explained anything to us by the way. They just told us to keep taking off more clothes and that we would get wet. None of us had a clue what we were in for. All of the sudden your bare feet slide into a dark, cold, mud trench. Then you walk a little further and now that mud trench is up to your thighs. A couple minutes later we were asked to sit down and lay back into the mud and make sure our headlamps are off. So…there we were, in complete darkness, about 10 total strangers, in a cave in Vietnam, laying on our backs in the mud. Totally normal. We hiked back out and put the life jackets on and went for a swim deeper into the cave with our headlamps guiding the way. Such an amazing experience!!! One we won’t be forgetting. We were in Phong Nha for 3 days and we could have stayed for 3 weeks. Unfortunately, the previous 8 days of overnight trains planes and bus rides started to catch up with us. The second day in phong nha had us in hammocks the majority of the day and the most we did was ride some bikes around and play pool at ” the pub with cold beer”. That’s the actual name of the place and its spot on. As I’m writing this I realize where I am. Sometimes I catch myself saying all we did was lay around in hammocks and visit a pub with cold beer. It’s sounds miserable doesn’t it? I know it’s hard to believe that traveling to these parts of the world can be exhausting, but it’s true. Most people ask us how our vacation is going but in all honesty, it doesn’t feel like a vacation at all. Nor did we ever want it to feel like one. When the maximum time at one location is usually 2-3 weeks, it’s always go go go. We are always trying to fit in as much culture as we can and take advantage of our time, but, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. It’s inevitable that at one point you crash. That doesn’t always coincide with travel plans either. So with that being said, we had to kinda of just crash for a day and let our batteries recharge. We only had 3 days here and we really missed out seeing the rest of the park.

We left Phong Nha by bus and we booked a ride that would take us by the 17th parallel on our way to Hoi An. The 17th parallel was the border between north and south Vietnam during the war and where most of the fighting took place. We visited a war museum and also walked through the underground tunnel systems the Vietcong used. It’s all pretty amazing in my opinion. The Vietnamese are a very proud people. From the small amount we’ve seen on the road all I can say is that they are an extremely resilient people too. The museums show how they used to live in these caves and even have babies underground. There is also a section of the museum that is dedicated to people who are still experiencing some of the effects of the war. People who plow their lands and clear crops and accidentally find a bomb that hasn’t yet exploded yet. Farmers are still finding bombs in the rice fields. It’s all very surreal to me. It’s amazing how long ago it was but how very apparent the memory is there still.

Hoi An/Danang

Our bus took off from there and headed towards our last destination in Vietnam. Hoi An and Danang. Camilla was meeting up with us there and the timing worked out perfectly to try and get some surfing in and perhaps get a custom suit made. Danang is known to have the most consistent surf in Vietnam and although it’s mostly pretty small there, it does have its days. Danang is also part of a massive development area. They’re building very high end luxury hotels and villas right on the sand. Hoi An has a little more character and is more well known for its shopping. Hoi An is a great place to get anything made that is custom. Shoes, suits, dresses, bags, tshirts, basically anything you can think of, they can make it. We scored some really fun waves in Danang both days we were there and we were able to get some custom clothes made as well. Most days were spent at the beach surfing in the morning, walking around Hoi An shopping, and getting a few drinks at night. These two areas are pretty fun and if you get a chance to come to Vietnam you should definitely plan a week or two. We had such a good time in Vietnam!! We covered some good distance and met some great people. Camilla really helped us out a lot and made our trip very special. Hopefully we can come back sooner rather then later but for now we have to push onward to Thailand.


what my hands look like after rubbing indigo leaves from a bush in my hands for 1 minute

what my hands look like after rubbing indigo leaves from a bush in my hands for 1 minute

drying after being dyed 6x

drying after being dyed 6x

natural vrs. dyed

natural vrs. dyed

another blanket

another blanket

indigo print, done by hand on hemp

indigo print, done by hand on hemp

detail shot of of the blankets, the color and mixing of fabrics random but amazing layouts come out of it.

detail shot of of the blankets, the color and mixing of fabrics random but amazing layouts come out of it.

Hemp Loom, after making the the hemp thread they use looms like this to create the different fabrics

Hemp Loom, after making the the hemp thread they use looms like this to create the different fabrics

Bali part 2

During our stay in Sumatra, Rex and I had to start thinking about our next couple moves. After some debating we decided that we would want to stay in Bali a little bit longer than we had originally planned and we extended our stay by 2 weeks. Which means we ended up spending the max amount of time allotted on our visa and booked our flight out of there on the last day possible.
Once we came back from Sumatra, we headed straight to Ubud for some culture. The main reason to be in Bali was to surf, but we figured we should at least check out the artisan/batik/yogi meca of Indonesia (also it’s one of the only places I could find Pilates classes in Bali:)) we arrived close to midnight and just crashed out in our room.

The place (suly resort and spa) we stayed at was a real find. For $22 a night we had a massive room with aircon, wifi, 2 pools in the middle of rice fields, free yoga, a pretty cheap breakfast buffet and so much more. The resort is interesting due to the fact that it is also ran by high school kids. The front of the compound is a boarding school for kids from less fortunate areas who get scholarships to go to school and at the same time they get trained in everything hospitality. Basically at the end of their schooling, not only do they have their high school degree, they also have the ability to go get a job within the hospitality Industry. So the entire place (which is huge) is crawling with 16 year olds doing everything from room service, front desk, restaurant, and gardening. The resort was a little bit outside of town, in the area called Mas which is the area known for its wood carving. We rented a scooter to get us around and we were off to explore.
The next few days were filled with temples, monkeys, shopping, Pilates/yoga. It was pretty action packed considering the previous 2 weeks were fulfilled with just surfing, eating, sleeping.

One day we decided we would do some artisan classes, Rex chose wood carving and basket weaving, I did batik and also basket weaving.
We spent an entire day in a shop outside of town learning these 3 trades and let me tell you …basket weaving is hard… Like really no joke, hard!! At one point Rex and I both looked at each other like : “are you kidding me?!” In the mix of all this, it’s also 99% humidity and a heat index of 90 and we are tying our fingers in knots trying to weave a little box out of dried palm frauns. Our teacher completed 4 in the time that Rex and I finished 1…and he had a cigaret in his hand most the time… The upmost respect to those basket weavers.

As for the other classes, I think we both walked away extremely inspired to try and continue those crafts when we get home again. Batik was a lot of fun and reminded me of the silk dying, that Cat and I used to do when I was a kid. Rex took a huge liking (rightfully so, he has a natural talent ) to wood carving. His fish looks amazing and I can’t wait to see how it is once it’s sanded and done.

One of the only things Rex really wanted to do in Ubud was to go eat at Lotus Cafe. It has been there for over 30 years and was a restaurant he had fond memories of, from his previous visits. We decided to officially celebrate our 3 year anniversary there and unknowingly we also got to see a traditional Balinese dance performance. The food was amazing and the music/dance was entertaining. It didn’t break the bank and we felt like it was a special night!

After 4 days we left the hustle and bustle of Ubud and headed back to our beloved bukit peninsula. We had already reserved a room at Impossible Villas where Dana and Alex had posted up. We were ready to eat, breath, live surfing for another 14 days. Personally I was ready to put this whole surfing thing to rest mid Sumatra. I have had an odd relationship with it for 8 years. It has been an on and off again relationship, getting better but then taking 5 steps back, mental blocks that would infuriate me(and Rex) and I finally wanted to really just work on surfing and wrapping my head around it. I needed to figure out my mental issues with the ocean and the fear of it. So where to do it better than in the #1 best place to surf in the world (on reef?! The scariest thing ever) Rex, of course, thought this would be a great idea. He helped me learn how to read the waves/ocean and after the first day I was able to go surf on my own and figure it out. Rex would analyze and critique me after most waves and without him I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did. We would spend afternoon or evenings practicing on dry land (popping up, body movements once standing etc). We would watch videos of Sumatra and us surfing and analyze it(who knew that looking where you want to go instead of down the the wave would make such a huge difference ;)). Seeing the love that Rex has for surfing and the ocean really helped as well. Watching him surf, with such determination, grace and strength is really inspiring.
It was super uneventful and really boring for most people but I really truly enjoyed it! In the midst of all this I also met a couple other girls that surf and rip and it doubled the fun. Who could beat warm water, perfect 3-5 ft waves and good company?

We ended up surfing mainly Uluwatu and Padang Padang (I now know where all the German surfers go, 90% of people in the water were German and this is where I,ironically, ended up surfing most the time). We did a day trip to Pandawa (with some
Old colleges of Alex and I) and Rex did another day trip to Nusa Dua with Alex.

In the midst of our stay, I learned of a designer in town called Maggie. She is the founder and owner of a brand called Magini Bikinis. Dana and I made our way over to her shop one afternoon and man oh man was I in heaven. She had a rack of bikinis and then a shelving unit full of fabrics. In the corner were two sewing machines were a local couple was sewing away. Before we knew it Maggie (she is from Portugal, about 5’2″ and 80 lbs) had strapped and twisted and wrapped some bikinis on our bodies and was talking away about fit, fabric and construction. I felt like I was just glowing and then she told us the price of a custom bikini and I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. After long debates about what fabrics, fit and size to go with I walked away with 5 pieces and Dana with 3. In 3 short days they would be ready for pick up.

Weird enough, another couple from Orange County was in bali at the same time. Some ex-volcom employees that Alex and I worked with for awhile. We all had an amazing surf together and a great dinner. It was so great to see people from the old family and it truly made me be grateful for my times at volcom.

All in all it was nice to finally be in a little bit of a routine. We weren’t always bound to each other and could independently move around. It was inspiring and relaxing.
Rex got some massive waves and got his barrels in. I learned/did my first cut back front side and backside. We got to spend and build stronger friendships with old friends.
I am not going to lie, once again a piece of our heart was left in bali, we are already talking about when we can come back! So thank you bali and your people for being who you are!

Now we are on our way to Singapore and vietnammmmmmmm!!!

Sumatra

So,we were trying to get to Sumatra to meet up with a contact who at one time was from Costa Mesa, California. Her name is Amy and she had given us directions to her surf camp that kind of went along the lines of, take this airline to Jakarta because it’s cheaper, then to bandar lampung where you will have to stay the night. The next morning you need to go back to the airport and find a flight on susi air to krui. Don’t worry I will have the air traffic controller meet you there. The flight will not be available online nor will anybody in the town say it exists but it does. Or, if for some reason the flight is not running, grab a taxi that will take you the better part of 6-7 hours to the camp. She said she’d help us along the way but she was also in another part of Sumatra visiting her boyfriend. She wasn’t coming back to her camp for another 3 days after we would get there. So, we were on our own for a couple days. Turns out the flight to Jakarta was cheap and it was basically a brand new plane. The second flight into Bandar Lampung was the sketchiest landing I’ve ever encountered. Let’s just say we were coming in hot! Really hot!! Like we were breaking through earth’s atmosphere hot!!! I think I might have accidentally assumed the “brace yourself for crash landing position” at one point because the g’s we’re pushing me into the seat in front of me. We spent the night at a brand new hotel with discount prices that was also unheard of. So finding the place at night made it a little more interesting.

Back at the hotel, I was trying to book the taxi to the airport for the next morning and the girls at reception kept laughing at me when I told them we were flying to Krui. Fast forward to the taxi the next morning, the driver was laughing at us for trying to catch a flight to Krui. We pulled up at the airport and now we’re all kind of laughing because, what if he’s right? What if the girls are right? We had no idea. Until we opened the doors to the taxi and the air traffic controller was standing there saying “Carolin?” Sigh of relief, and more laughter. He handed us a phone and on the other end was Amy making sure everything was going smooth. We were on our way to krui. He escorted us the entire way. This guy looked like a government official. Alex was toting around a black pelican case with his camera inside so it added to the drama. If you don’t know what a pelican case is, it looks like a case to smuggle expensive things in, and it has a big silver lock on it. People were staring at us like we were V.I.P.. I’m not going to lie, it kind of felt like we were. Everything went surprisingly well for what we had expected.

We then boarded out little single engine Cessna. Carolin did not like this bit at all. Turns out our pilot was from South Africa and from what we gathered the co-pilot was logging hours and doing some training of some sort. So the pilot was letting him fly us to krui. The flight there was awesome! Super smooth and great scenery. The landing on the other hand was another interesting one. We came in short and we bounced off the runway and started to kind of glide in but still not on the ground. The pilot ended up taking over and “assisting” the copilot. We made it down fine after about 5-10 seconds of drifting. The airport there is pretty much nonexistent. The runway is really all it is and a small office with weeds growing into it and stuff. So, we made it to the camp and headed down the coast to jump in the water and for the next week or so, eating, sleeping, surfing, and riding motor bikes around was all we did. We caught some really fun waves. Nothing too big. All in all, really fun. Carolin got her first reef rash on her foot, I saw a Sumatran brown huntsman spider the size of my head. One day we saw a pack of eels swimming in open ocean. Saw a couple locals chasing what looked like a Komodo dragon with bamboo sticks down the street. Y’know, normal everyday things you see in Sumatra. All the locals wave and say “hello mister”. It’s such a catchy phrase that there’s actually a surf shop there called, hello mister surf shop.

Amy’s place was really cool. She’s basically built this life for herself down there and from some of her stories, it sounds like she’s had to overcome some cultural differences and learn how to communicate with the locals. It’s so removed from everything that you learn to adjust to little things that are so abundant back home. The three of us were really impressed by her and her little compound.

We spent most days in the water and had an amazing time off the grid. We flew back to bandar lampung and spent a day there enjoying the amenities of the hotel and walked around in town. We went to a four story supermarket and I think we may have been the only white westerners in the entire town. Alex is like 6’2 and between Caros blonde hair and my mustache people were tripping out. The employees at the store took photographs of us and some people would just stop, point, and either run, or….. I think I might have seen Alex turn a kid into stone. It was an experience to say the least. Everywhere we went the whole trip people would kind of be in shock to see us.

We flew back to bali the next night and Caro and I spent our 3 year anniversary in between Java and Bali. I’d say it worked out perfectly. We felt bad for Alex so we made him a happy first third wheel anniversary card. But, we’re back in Bali now and we had a really cool experience in Sumatra. One we won’t forget. We definitely want to go back and see the other spots of the island.

Surfing Sumatra from rexford adams on Vimeo.