When travel to Cuba was opened up early last year I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I know there were workarounds, but I hadn’t had the draw to take me to our neighboring island yet. I took off at the end of November, my only plan to do a portrait series around Havana and the small, western city of Viñales. I tend to jump around when I travel, and I really wanted to concentrate on fewer areas this time. It didn’t hurt that Viñales has stellar climbing.
People want to know about your experiences in Cuba. The thing I tell everyone that asks, the Cuban people are amazing. They made my trip incredible.
Rodney, a tattoo artist who lives near the skate park, acts as an older
brother to a lot of the young kids that skate at the park.
One of the things that surprised me about Cuba was the diversity – there were people of every color of the spectrum, from Caucasian with blue eyes to very dark African. It was pretty amazing seeing no discernible difference in how they treated each other.
Raul is a climbing guide in Viñales, and he not only showed me the best climbing but also brought me into his tight-knit group of friends. Traveling alone can be…lonely, but the people you meet along the way always make it worth it.
I might get into more details about my trip later, but overall it was an awesome trip. It was easy to get to and easy to get around; the people are so welcoming, hospitable and friendly; and the country is incredibly beautiful. I definitely want to make it back as soon as possible!
As you probably gathered from my previous posts, I took a road trip around the Pacific Northwest last month. It was awesome to get into an area of the country I absolutely love.
I landed at 12:40am in Seattle. I didn’t want to pay for a hotel and the first shuttle to Whidbey Island wasn’t till 6:50am, so I found a “quiet” corner, blew up my Klymit Ozone sleeping pad, donned my sleeping mask, and tried to get a few hours of sleep between the security announcements over the speakers. My uncle graciously let me borrow his Ford Taurus to drive for my two-week trip – not exactly the adventure mobile, but it worked. I crossed from Whidbey to Port Townsend and drove US101 to Forks, WA, stopping at Lake Crescent along the way.
From Forks, I drove to the coast, to La Push, home to the Quileute Tribe and beautiful beaches. I walked around Beach 1 for a bit before searching for a place to camp.
I was told by a young girl working at the RV park that I could car camp at Beach 2, where I found a relatively flat spot, made dinner, then walked the 3/4 mile to the beach through the rainforest just after sunset. The colors were going off when I got there.
In the morning, I kept driving down US101 towards Astoria, Oregon, and got sidetracked by a sign that simply said, “Big Tree”. It was a short easy hike through the rainforest, then there it was, a really big tree.
There really wasn’t anything else there.
I drove through Astoria and searched for waterfalls nearby. Youngs Creek Falls came up, near the Lewis and Clark Historical Fort Clatsop. Another short, easy hike down to the river revealed this falls.
I planned my road trip completely separately from the knowledge that my family was going to be in Portland for a conference. I met up with my mom, dad, sister and two nephews for dinner, then my sister and I went climbing the next day at Broughton Bluff, near the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge. We first stopped at the Wahkeena Falls and Multnomah Falls. Definitely a beautiful place, even with the hundreds of tourists. The climbing at Broughton was short, but fun and stout (I only climbed trad, but I took a pretty awkward fall on 5.9, watched a strong climber struggle on 5.8, and took a knee shaking fall on two lobes of a .2 on a 5.10a I’d watched an old timer climber aid up).
After a few days in Portland, I made my way to Bend, a city many compare to Boulder, CO. The access to adventure is great, but I wasn’t swept off my feet by the city. Boulder still is the only place I’ve ever felt at home.
I met up with my longtime friend, Allison Osantowske, and she took her visiting mother and me up to the Cascade Lakes, past Mount Bachelor. This is Sparks Lake, a beautiful spot.
I drove to Pacific City with Allison and crew to try surfing for the first time, incredibly hard. I made my way back to Bend to try and find someone to climb with in Smith Rock. I got to Smith just at sunset as it was pouring down rain. I waited it out and the rain cleared. The almost full moon came out, and I took this 12-minute exposure well after dark.
I woke up in the morning to more rain, so I skipped Smith and went back into Bend to shoot some acro yoga with Dani Whitehead. I met Michelle and Sylvan who invited me to shoot Highlining in Smith the next day. I had planned on driving roughly half way to Index, WA that night to find climbing partners in the morning. But I elected to stay and shoot highlining, then drive 7 hours straight to Everette, WA. Thankfully, Mark came with us and I was able to climb one, very hard, 11d route at Easy’s Playhouse.
I ran back to my car from the top of the Red Wall in (I think) an impressive 15 minutes, trying not to push gaping tourists off the trail. I had started climbing past my planned leaving time, so I was getting on the road later than I wanted. I drove up US 97 through northern Oregon to Yakima. I was stopped twice for extended periods because of construction, but only stopped and got out of the car once in the 7 hrs to take photos of this derelict gas station.
The landscape of eastern Washington was so far different than what everyone thinks of the PNW.
I wish I could have spent more time in Eastern Washington, but my trip was winding to a close. Leavenworth seemed like a really interesting place surrounded by extremely beautiful mountains, lakes, and awesome climbing. Stevens Pass definitely made me want to come back and ski.
I spent a couple days in Seattle then headed back to Whidbey Island to spend time with two sets of aunts and uncles and return the car. I always love traveling, and I haven’t done a trip like this around the US before. Would love to do more.
Allison put the idea in my head to try surfing on the Oregon coast during my trip, but with the weather it wasn’t worth it for them to make the four-hour drive the first weekend I was out. I’d never surfed despite traveling through amazing surfing locations in South East Asia, so I was pretty disappointed. When I got to Bend the next weekend, though, I was pretty set on trying downhill mountain biking at Mount Bachelor, but Allison decided to make the trip out to the coast at about 2pm Friday. So flipping my psych from mountain biking to surfing, I made the four-hour drive through west central Oregon to Pacific City.
My first time surfing, I stood up and rode a wave all the way in for the first time after an hour. I think I spent a total of six hours in the water the first day, not coming in for a stretch of 3 hours before I realized how exhausted I was. Holy hell, surfing (and the waves) beats you up. Every part of my body hurt, my climbing injury in my shoulder sprang back to life, and the board torpedoed my hip which made me hobble for a week. But I kept going. I was determined to be proficient. I tried again on Sunday and had to relearn how to stand up, tried a short board (easier to maneuver in the waves, fun to ride on your knees, but seemingly impossible to stand up on), and figured out bigger waves. I enjoyed myself, tried hard, and was exhausted. I didn’t catch the “Oh my God! I need to do this every day!” bug, which I’m fine with. I don’t live next to any surfing. I didn’t really take the time to shoot anyone surfing, but I shot the crew I was with getting ready, Max, Jonny, and Allison, on a beautifully foggy morning.
After the first day of surfing, Jonny was determined to get on his skateboard in the impressive Lincoln City Skateboard Park at Kirtsis Park. Definitely the coolest skateboard park I’ve seen.
This only shows a small section of the complex
Jonny Sischo riding the wave
I don’t know who this kid was, but damn he could rip. One of the most impressive riders I’ve seen in person.
As we were leaving I saw these stairs and wanted to shoot Whitney on them. This guy, Mathew, ran up the stairs past us and stopped at the top to take a breather. I asked him to join the shot, and thankfully he obliged! Awesome to have the perfect model just run into your shoot.
I was set on leaving Bend Monday night for Washington, but some friends convinced me to stay and go explore Smith Rock with them Tuesday morning. We hiked to the top and Sylvan and Michelle got to work setting up the slackline on established bolts.
Sylvan set up the line on the far side and trollied back to our side, taping the main line and the backup together every few feet. He then took his first steps out into space.
Slacklining 3 feet off of the ground is hard enough. Throw in the mindf$%k of walking on a one-inch piece of webbing 400 feet above the ground, and inconsistencies like wind causing the line act in unpredictable ways, and I don’t know how they do it. It takes an incredible amount of skill, concentration, and core strength. I’ve had several opportunities to get out on highlines, but I’ve always politely declined the invitations. When Sylvan and Michelle said I couldn’t leave till I got out on the line, I finally gave in. I felt surprisingly comfortable just sitting on the line, but when I got set to stand up, I couldn’t make my body do it. One barrier at a time, I guess.
This was my first time to Smith Rock, and I was leaving disappointed that I hadn’t gotten to climb any routes because of weather and timing. But right as I was about to leave to start my 7 hour drive to Everett, WA, two other highliners top out from climbing the Red Wall and said they’d give me a catch on this fun looking 5.11d on Easy’s Playhouse. I knew it was going to be hard because 40 foot 11d’s are usually harder than a lot of 5.12a’s. I was not wrong; stout but very fun overhanging climbing. I’d love to get back to Smith and get some solid climbing in.
I just got back Saturday from a two week trip around the Pacific Northwest. It was great to get away, but I was also meeting up with athletes and interesting people to shoot. Megan contacted me and wanted to shoot handstands at the Jim Ellis Freeway Park. It was a very cool setting, besides getting the cops called on me because someone thought my light stand was a rifle.
I went to Reno for my birthday to see my sister and my mom, and mostly to ski! I got connected with a few great athletes, Kenzie Morris, Riley Bathurst, Brandon Craddock, and Kelsey Hyche, who showed me around. I spent Sunday skiing with my sister and nephew at the locals’ (and the Japanese tourists’) resort, Mt Rose – impressively fun and steep terrain!
I met up with Kenzie, Riley and Brandon at the Mt Rose Pass parking lot, and we went for a quick afternoon tour. It had been warm, it was definitely spring skiing conditions.
Kinzie smiling despite her new boots killing her.
Brandon taking the first crack at the cornice
Kinzie carving down a short spine
Brandon hiking the ridge line for the ‘enth time.
The backcountry was warm, the snow thick, and we got out a little too late in the day, but it was still fun. It was nice skinning at 9,000 ft feeling super fit (I’m used to skinning at 11,000 ft and dragging.) The ski out on the west side, towards lake Tahoe was just the right mixture of soft and flowy to be fun spring skiing. I hitch hiked back to Reno
I hitch hiked back to Reno, and got picked up by a couple of Bolivian Catholic missionaries. It was Easter, and it provided for some…interesting…conversation. I was glad when they pulled into the Starbucks parking lot, just after the man started talking about a prophet that he follows that’s predicting the end times is happening now.
That night it snowed over a foot in Reno. My sister drove me up to Sqauw Valley to meet up with Brandon Craddock and Kelsey Hyche. Squaw got somewhere between 4-6 inches, and made for some great turns, just enough to smooth over the sun crust of the past few days.
Brandon enjoying the white room
Brandon gave me the gift of my very own white room!
Brandon climbs some sketchy snow to get the shot.
Definitely worth the effort
At times, the snow was super heavy and made autofocus next to impossible.
Brandon stood at the top of the rockslide, contemplating. “You really don’t have to do this!” I yelled up to him. “I’m doing it!” came the reply.
“I hope you got that. I’m not doing it again.”
I spent my birthday hanging out with some awesome people and playing cards against humanity. If I have to be away from my friends for my birthday, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.
For day two, Kelsey wanted to show me around Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley’s sister resort.
Brandon getting sendy early.
Brandon had to go to work, so Kelsey took me on a hike to ski an area called Cartoonland. Pretty accurate name, if you think of a cartoon version of perfect mountains.
The sidecountry off of Alpine was some of my favorite, so many awesome zones. It kicks you out into a residential area where we had to carefully make our way back to the road, where a resort shuttle picked us up.
Squaw and Alpine quickly became two of my favorite resorts in the country. I’m definitely excited to go back next year! It was great working with Kelsey and Brandon inbounds, and getting shown all their secret stashes. I think I improved my skiing just by the necessity of keeping up with these two.
The last stop on my trip in Asia was Hong Kong. I bought my flight out of there when I thought I was going to China, and it made sense in my trip trajectory, but I went to Cambodia instead and had to buy two additional flights from Phnom Penh to Bangkok and Bangkok to HK. I was almost out of the money I had borrowed from Xavi after my wallet had been stolen, and the guest houses in HK were far more expensive than where I had been staying in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. I had met a guy in Thakhek who lived in Hong Kong who said he could help me out. He connected me with a friend of his who also happened to run an AirBnB out of his apartment. Thankfully, Gordon let me crash on his couch despite having a paying AirBnB guest staying. An incredibly gracious host, Gordon met me at the train station, and showed me around his neighborhood with his girlfriend. I’m definitely indebted to him, I left Hong Kong with $3 US dollars. I would not have made it without his accommodations.
I had one full day to explore Hong Kong, and I spent the day photographing with a street photography mindset. I had a blast. Hong Kong was an incredibly fun city to explore.
I got really into photographing people's shadows at a crosswalk.
My time in Southeast Asia was over. I decided to stay up all night so I could sleep better on my flights. It worked. I flew to Shanghai, then the 15 or so hours to New York. As soon as we took off, I passed out for 8 hours! Hands down the best sleep on a plane I’ve ever had. I love seeing new places, eating new foods, but I especially love meeting new people.
I love seeing new places, eating new foods, but I especially love meeting new people. Travel feeds my soul.
I left from Siem Reap on a night bus, a reclined sleeper. It was the most unique setup I’ve seen on a bus. The “beds” were not completely flat, but mostly reclined, and your feet fit under the torso of the person in front of you. Bunk bed style. It was pretty comfortable, but if I had been any taller than 5’10” I can imagine it would be much less so.
The bus arrived in Sihanoukville in the morning. Another westerner had made friends with a local that worked at a bar on Koh Rong, and he helped us get a tuk-tuk that took us to the touristy part of town. We could buy tickets for the boat in many of the shops there. The fast boat ran about 40 minutes and cost about $15, the slow boat takes 2 hours and costs $10, round trip. The choice was obvious, except the fast boat was sold out when I got around to trying to buy my ticket. Slow boat it was.
The passengers were picked up from one of the guest houses and dropped off at a random looking industrial building at the docks. Unsure of where we were supposed to go, we find a group of westerners and locals lounging around an area definitely not made for passengers. Looking around at the boats, it was pretty unclear which was the “slow boat” transport to the island. I kind of hoped it was the yellow junker. I got my wish.
Throughout my trip, I was trying to capture nice shots of my sweet Osprey Waypoint 80 that the company had sent me, but it was rare that I had the opportunity to set my bag down in a picturesque spot. I took this shot as proof of concept, and was waiting until we left the dock and possibly neared the island to take the money shot…then about 10 people sat on and all around my bag. Picture ruined.
The boat was a little crowded, mixed with supplies for the island.
I spent 3 days on Koh Rong but didn’t take very many photos 2 of the 3 days. I was just enjoying the friends I was making and the atmosphere on the island. On the boat, I had met a couple from Belgium, and we kept running into each other on the island. We decided to take a hike across the island to Long Beach, a 7km long white sands beach. The trek over the “mountain” is pretty steep going up and down, and when we reached the beach there was military personnel everywhere on an industrial looking dock with construction all around. Not the pristine beach we were expecting.
We walked along the beach, and the further from the dock the nicer it became. At the end of the beach we could see a small village, we decided to try and reach that. On the way, we met a British guy swimming with three girls and we took a break with them. Joe, Pleun, Bridgette, and Katrin ended up tagging along with us. At the village, we could either take the boat back for $5, walk all the way back along the beach, which seemed to take forever, or attempt to walk across the middle of the island. I wanted to see more of the island, so I decided to take the path across the middle of the island, and Joe joined me. I’m glad he did, would have been a long, lonely walk through the completely unremarkable terrain. It was 2x as long as the way we’d come. And I was in flip flops – I never wear flip flops. In all we walked about 24 km, it was a bit more than I’d anticipated.
The only interesting thing on the entirety of the middle of the island.
The next couple of days I spent exploring the island, swimming, seeing the bioluminescent plankton, listening to some great music, dancing with the locals, and just spending time with a great group of friends. It’s amazing to me how you can meet random people from all over the world, spend a short, intense amount of time with them, and feel like you’ve known them forever. These short friendships feel so organic and natural, but also a bit bittersweet, since you never know if you’ll ever see them again. We had a girl from the Netherlands, two girls from Austria, two guys from Belgium, a guy from the UK, and myself – and we just clicked.
My last day on Koh Rong, we spend the day relaxing, reading,paddling in a kayak, and swimming, on a quiet beach a 30 minute or so hike from the main strip. It was the perfect relaxing end to the majority portion of my trip.
Pleun enjoying the magazine she carried with her for the entirety of her trip.
Bridgette and Katrin
Job getting cozy with the white sands
Flo from Belgium
Job from Belgium
The lovely Pleun (Ploon? Ploowen? Plown?) from the Netherlands
And the lovely Bridgette from Austria
I got really into photographing the waves
Every time I’m around the ocean I want to find an interesting bit of coastline to photograph at night. I love those eerily smooth ocean nightscapes. I struggled to find anything to make an interesting photograph, and I tried for probably an hour to take a shot of rocks in the crashing waves. But with no moon, there wasn’t enough light to make an image. When I was returning to the village I found this salamander eating bugs on a lamppost. It made the wasted hour worthwhile.
The light in the morning, when I was heading towards the slow boat, was pretty incredible, and I was finally inspired to shoot photos of the island.
A little about the island. When you arrive at the docks you’re overwhelmed by locals trying to get you to stay in their guesthouses. The beachfront is full of loud bars spilling Westerners out onto the sand in varying degrees of drunkenness. Many of the bars have guesthouses directly above them; I would not recommend staying in these. They’re incredibly dirty and loud, and even though they might have a good price, I’d recommend walking south along the beach to find some quieter places off of the main strip. I found a nice, quiet guesthouse with dorms and private rooms, only a 2-minute walk from the strip. I was the only guest in the dorms and effectively paid $4/night for a private room.
It was a good end to my trip, just enough beach time to relax and fulfill that need for a couple years. From here, I made my way to Phnom Penh, and then onto Hong Kong. Thing of note: None of the hotels in Phnom Penh accept credit cards. Because I was operating on very limited cash after having my wallet stolen, a friend was trying to pay for my hotel for me. She thought she had done so, and I argued with the clerk for a while telling him my room was paid for, yet he insisted I pay him cash. Finally, he called a supervisor who told me that none of the hotels have the ability to accept credit cards, so it was impossible that she had pre-paid for the room. I paid the exorbitant fee of $15 for the night. In the morning, I walked across the street to the airport and flew Air Asia to Hong Kong.
I’m pretty sure I’d heard the name Angkor Wat before I went to Asia, but I don’t think I realized what it is.
I rarely pay to go in attractions when I travel; I generally would rather be where the tourists are not. But everyone that I met in Siem Reap encouraged me to pay the $20 to enter Angkor Wat, so I did. I rode a Giant hardtail mountain bike to the ticket office right at 5pm, when they sell tickets for the next day. There was a huge line and tour buses lining the parking lot. Once you bought your ticket you could rush the 4km from the ticket office to the Angkor Wat temple to catch sunset on the temple. There was a mass of humans here, trying their best to all take award winning photos with their smartphones. The sun had mostly gone down by the time I found a spot on the lake in front of the temple. I quickly took some quintessential tourist shots and moved on, making my way into the temple.
Pretty much as soon as I got in the temple, guards started ushering tourists back towards the road. The temple closes at sundown. I somehow slid past the guards and went to the backside of the temple grounds.
I found a monk standing perfectly still on the far side of the temple. This was a long exposure, several seconds, and he doesn’t appear to move. I tried a second shot…
and apparently kicked my tripod. Happy little accidents.
The next morning I woke up before sunrise to peddle as fast as I could the 8 kms to the complex. I think it took me around 20-25 minutes of basically sprinting on the bike. I was psyched I paid the $1 extra for the Giant mountain bike instead of the city bikes. I was blazing past other tourists on bikes like they weren’t even moving.
I raced past the Angkor Wat complex, since I already had photos of it, in order to find something of interest before the sun came up. I think I found just what I was looking for.
The temple had faces carved into so many of the surfaces
I had successfully avoided the hoards of tourists, and basically had this temple to myself for the sunrise. I continued on, searching for whatever treasures I could find.
After only a short time, I got bored looking at temples. I started seeking out humans to photograph. I stopped at many of the vendors and asked to take their pictures.
I found a trail that looked like it could accommodate my bike, which led from one temple structure to another. I came across a group of Cambodian tourists following a boy monk.
One of my favorite photos from the trip.
The trees in the complex were some of my favorite things.
Finally, after a lot of searching, I found Ta Prohm, the temple used in Angelina Jolie’s “Tomb Raider”. It was one of the more interesting temples because of the interaction between nature and man-made. But sadly, I got there at the same time as the hoard of tourists, so I didn’t get too many good photos of it.
Partway through I realized I was almost late getting back to my hostel to check out before they charged me for another day. I ran back to my bike and peddled as hard as I could. I didn’t realize how far I’d gone during the morning. I rode roughly 20 miles in total, a lot when you weren’t planning on riding much at all. I reached my hostel right at 1pm, the deadline. The ride had been pretty horrendous in the hot sun. I took a road back that wasn’t the most direct way, and there were zero trees for shade. I was psyched there was a pool.
I loved my time in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I definitely recommend it as a destination. Next, I was seeking out some beach time.
My time at Green Climber’s Home in Thakhek, Laos was great, but after nine days I was feeling pretty beat up and ready to move on. I knew I wanted to spend a couple days on an island and determined that Cambodia made the most sense on my trip trajectory.
I said my goodbyes to my new friends at GCH, and with a few other climbers, took a tuk tuk to the bus stop. I was going to Pakse with no plan other than to find transport to Siem Reap as soon as possible. When the bus arrived in Pakse I ended up meeting a couple from France that was also on the bus and we went in search of hostel together. The only thing availble we could find was single room with two beds, so I shared a room with this couple I just met. In the morning, I snuck out before they woke up to catch the early bus to the Cambodian border.
The Cambodian border….
Before the bus stops at the border, we pick up a man that gets on and says he will streamline the entry visa process for everyone, but there’s a catch. The entry visa is $40, but the man wants $50 from everyone. I already had my entry visa, so I just ignored him. Turns out the extra $10 was for bribes to the Laotian and Cambodian border guards. I went through on my own.
I passed my passport through the window to the Laotian guard, he looked up and asks for the $5. “I’m not paying you extra just because you’re doing your job.” He looked at me, frustrated, fliped open my passport and stamped something in it. He quickly handed me my passport back and yelled “next!”.
I followed the slow-moving, confused crowd across no-man’s-land to a medical tent we were directed to. They pointed a thermometer ‘gun’ at me, tell me to fill out a form, then ask for $1. I just stand up and leave. They’re supposedly checking for Ebola, but neither border requires the form, so therie’s no point to do this or pay for it.
100 yards from the Laotian border, I handed my passport to the Cambodian guard. He looked at my already purchased Entry Visa, peers up at me, and asks for $5. “I’ve already paid for my Entry Visa. I don’t owe you any more money.” He flips through my passport book and hands it back to me without stamping it. “You don’t have an exit stamp from Laos.” I don’t know what the Laotian guard had stamped, but he hadn’t actually shown that I was leaving the country.
I scurried back across no-man’s-land, worried that the bus would leave me. I might have made little bit of a ruckus as I returned to the Laotian border, demanding that they actually stamp my book. Finally, one of the guards reluctantly gave me the stamp I needed to “leave” the country. The Cambodian guard looked at me with equal disdain, but stamps my visa anyway and allows me to enter.
I guess I should be more careful with border guards, I’m entering their country, but I refuse to pay bribes.
After waiting around for hours at the border, we’re loaded onto a small micro-bus. I get set in the front passenger seat, and all our bags are loaded as a barricaded between me and the rest of the passengers. I effectively had a 6-hour private car ride to Siem Reap.
I took a dorm room bed at Garden Village Guesthouse, at the recommendation of the bus company. It was a good price, and it had a pool (highly recommended). I ended up meeting some great people here.
Siem Reap is a pretty nice town, with something for almost every type of traveler. The draw for travelers is definitely Angkor Wat, but I met several ex-pats just enjoying living there as well. Good cheap restaurants line the tightly winding streets that run into the river. Along the river, there are more expensive places. There’s a party scene, and quiet areas.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to pay the $20 for a day pass into Angkor Wat. I typically don’t pay to go into things when I’m traveling cheap (and I was surviving off a fixed amount of cash that I had borrowed from Xavi), but some friends convinced me it was worth it. As I was considering what to do, I rented a bike and spent a day trying to connect with the locals, something I hadn’t really gotten to do on my trip so far. I do this by taking portraits of the people I meet.
Ice delivery. Might be best to avoid ice in your water.
There was a pretty girl selling fruit, but she wasn’t keen on having her photo taken.
So I shot her fruit.
I’ve eaten a lot of fresh coconuts, but this was definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. The meat was so delicious!
I sat and watched these kids for probably 20 minutes, jumping into the river with pure joy.
I ended my exploration of Siem Reap at a large temple that was a bit past where most of the tourists go. It was quiet and offered me some shade from the blazing sun. I don’t often spend a lot of time in temples, but I enjoyed a lot of the quotes attributed to Buddha engraved on a lot of the statues.
Xavi paid the tuk tuk driver, since I had had my wallet stolen in Vientiane. Luckily, Green Climbers Home operates on a credit system, and you pay at the end of your stay for lodging, food, and anything else. Because of this, I had 9 days to figure out how to get funds for the rest of my trip.
Back in the early fall my buddy, Scott Homan, had mentioned that he was going to Laos to meet up with Xavier and climb. He – kind of – invited me, and after a rough fall, I figured a trip like this was just what I needed.
Green Climbers Home sits in a valley surrounded by tall limestone mountains that jut straight up out of the flat earth.
The resort is two large thatch-roofed buildings resting on stilts surrounded by bungalos, also on stilts. Apparently it floods every year. There are also two dorms, and two areas of tented camping. I think in all they can accommodate about 100 climbers at a time.
The climbing is super steep, varied, fun limestone climbing over pockets, tufas, and stalactites. Endurance and core power is the most important thing here. For me, this was mostly a climbing trip, and I barely took my camera out. But by the end of the trip I was feeling that I couldn’t leave without having a few climbing photos.
A climber works up Jungle King (7b) in the Roof
Xavi climbs Jungle King barefoot, because...he can.
An incredibly strong, older Japanese woman gets the send on Jungle King. Everyone was in awe of her grace.
Diana Wendt got the send on Jungle King after a few tries. My endurance kept me from getting this
Chrissi Kuehn and Pete? climb two roof routes
Diana prepares to make the crux move on Jungle King
GCH's original restaurant burned down last fall, so they were busy rebuilding it in the same spot.
I slept in a tent for nine days. It was pretty comfortable, but I was very happy it was not any hotter than it was. The tent was not really made for the tropics, having almost no ventilation. But it was about 100 feet from the river that runs through this cave, so I could go for a swim any time I was over heated.
The cave is pretty incredible, a huge cavern with three entrances. Standing on this rock, you can see two of the entrances, but the third, you apparently have to go wading through chest deep water for a while. I didn’t go explore it.
Xavier and Scott made plans to shoot a short film with Richard Seisl, who wanted to put up a highline (slackline) up in the mouth of the cave. They asked me to help shoot the video. I couldn’t not take stills too.
The morning light coming into the cave was killer!
Here’s the finished video, I shot most of the wide angle shots and a few of the details.
The restaurant's usual state at night
No shoes allowed in the restaurant.
Green Climbers Home is a fantastic destination for climbers in Southeast Asia. I recommend that you check it out. I’d love to go back. I do wish that they would fix their shoddy anchor systems.
Message to Green Climbers Home: It’s incredibly frustrating and dangerous for us climbers. If it’s because it’s expensive to buy chains, charge everyeone an extra dollar. That’s plenty to fund changing out all of the expired climbing rope tying together two traditional metal hangers and a single hardware store d-link. You don’t want to wait until your “genius”, cheap, dangerous method fails.
At the bus station in Vientiane I got situated in my “bed” on the sleeper bus. It looked like I would be sharing the space with about 4 other people. Then a guy in plain clothes comes and tells me I have to get off of the bus. He leads me to another, crappier, sleeper bus a few down in the station and tells me this is my bus. It’s a completely different company, I’m pretty confused. The guy that brought me tries to take off, but I remind him that they still have my bags on the first bus. The bags get placed under the second bus and I get shown to another bed, a tiny space that I’m sharing with an older Laotian man.
This was one of the worst bus rides I’ve ever been on, constant jarring as if the bus had never been fitted with shocks. I got some fitful sleep, but at 2am, I was told to get off the bus. I stepped off into the dark night, unsure of where I was. I was on the side of the road, outside of a city. Once again, they tried to leave without getting my bags.
I shoulder my heavy bags(all my clothes, camera and climbing gear stuffed into an Osprey Waypoint 80, and a 40-liter climbing backpack. I estimate it to be over 60lbs.) and started walking towards what I think is the center of town, hoping to find someplace with WiFi. A woman called me over, “Guesthouse? Guesthouse!!”. I walked toward her, and she points to another woman on a cot behind a floor to ceiling metal barred gate. The second lady sat up and called me over. She quoted a price, a bit high for the shoddy looking place, but understandable since it was 2am and just outside the bus stop. “I have no money. No Kip. No Dollar. My wallet was stolen,” I tried to explain in broken English. I pantomimed my wallet being stolen, my back pocket empty. “I sleep there?” I suggested, pointing to an empty spot on the cement floor inside the gate. After some contemplating, lady number two conceded and opened the gate. I had a Klymit Inertia O-Zone sleeping pad, and they glared at me as I blew it up. I actually had a comfortable 4 hours of sleep.
I woke up to an old man sitting next to me, looking at me suspiciously. I quickly packed away my sleeping pad and stood up, motioning to the lock on the gate. Still eyeing me, the old man unlocked the gate and I wandered off into the morning light. I walked about 4 kms, asking everyone along the way for WiFi or Police Station. Most people just shook their heads and walked away. Some would point in a direction, and I would keep walking. (No one knew what I was asking, apparently. I was definitely not being pointed towards the police station). I finally found a hotel that allowed me to use their WiFi, found the location (I thought) of the Foreigner’s Police Station, and received an email from Green Climbers Home that said they had money waiting for at the gate so I could pay a Tuk Tuk driver to take me the 12kms
Women preparing their watermelon sales for the day and catcalling me...
The view from the Tuk Tuk
My friend Xavi was waiting for me at Green Climbers Home and paid the tuk tuk driver. It was good to be among friends after getting into the predicament of losing all my money.
Green Climbers Home is a climbing resort 12kms outside of Thakhek. Started about 5 years ago in a valley between some amazing limestone cliffs, they offer bungalos, dorms and tent camping. I’ll go more into this place later.
The one big caveat of staying at Green Climbers Home is that it is not Laos. It’s pretty much Europe in huts. The climbing is amazing, but you’re surrounded by pretty much only Europeans. I had to leave several times during my stay to experience Laos.
The best way to get into town was to hitch hike!
Xavi and Scott relax on the way into Thakhek
Monks ride bikes to get around town.
The people, even though most don’t speak any English, are very friendly and want to help out. They also have a saying, “Bopenyoung” (poorly translated to my ears), that means something along the lines of Hakuna Matata, or No Worries. And this is definitely the attitude of the people. They’re friendly and hospitable but not in your face about it. If you need something, you will ask. It’s great, I really enjoyed that about the Laotians.
Diana and Randall hitchhiking into Thakhek
We went through a large market that had everything from hand bags to pig heads.
I went to where I thought the police station was. No one spoke English and I was trying to communicate to someone over the phone what I needed. I just needed a police report saying my wallet was stolen. They needed my passport and some other information I didn’t bring. So I had to come back another day. On day two: you don’t have a form from this other police station. I had to walk all over town trying to find it. Wasn’t marked on the outside of the building. And it was closed for lunch. I had to come back two hours later. I finally got the form after waiting for all of the police officers to tell each other about their lunches, apparently (everyone standing around, no one doing anything, me just sitting looking stupidly confused). I go back with my form, my passport, and everything I needed.
“How do we know you had a wallet? We can’t give you a letter saying it was stolen because we have no proof.”
“How do you have proof that anything was stolen, ever?”
“We cannot give you anything on our letterhead.”
So I have a long document written in Laotian that recorded the incident, but they wouldn’t write it on their letterhead. Yay insurance.
Harry had a birthday, so all of the Americans and several other Euros went into town to celebrate. Everything was closed except for the liquor store, so we had a party in the town square. Things got a little weird with whiskey body shots off of Harry. One guy didn't want to a body shot off of Harry....so he took the shot out of his own navel. One of the funniest things I've seen.
Then there’s the overabundance of Range Rovers in tiny little towns. I saw brand new Autobiographies ($150k) and well, how much classier can you get than a “gold” Range Rover Sport?
Thakhek was a nice town, but I wish I had gotten to see more of Laos.
I left Bangkok on an overnight bus for Chiang Mai. I had a friend that just happened to be there, so I went to meet up. I didn’t really know anything about Chiang Mai except it was in the mountains. Right before I left I found out that the Lantern Festival (Yi Peng) was going on while I was there, so I wound up booking a hotel room before I left (I typically like finding housing when I show up. You find some great places that way). My hotel was a few kilometers out of downtown, so I rented a scooter to get around.
I have this weird thing that keeps me from using taxis for as long as humanly possible (It’s probably just being a cheapskate. I learned that from my family). I walked several kilometers with my 60+ lb pack to my hotel to avoid hiring a taxi. Then I walked another several kilometers from my hotel into town to find a scooter. On the way I found this temple.
Lanterns over the Ping River riverwalk
My friend has been traveling asia since August and keeps finding herself back in Chiang Mai. She took me on a hike up to this monastary. I now can’t find it on the Google machine, but it’s somewhere west of the city.
I said goodbye to one friend, and met up with another. In one of those wierd traveling coincedences I was in Chiang Mai at the same time as my buddy Luis’ sister.
I had spent the night at Luis’ and his sisters apartment in NYC the night before I left for Bangkok. I didn’t know this when I arrived there, but Giuliana was leaving at 6am for…Bangkok. I followed at 2pm. We missed each other in Bangkok, and then realized that we were both in Chiang Mai.
We explored the night market.
Love these illustrations
I went climbing the next day at the Crazy Horse Buttress outside of the city on transport provided by Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures. Go there. Use them. It’s awesome. I didn’t really take any photos because I was enjoying the hell out of the steep, super-featured limestone climbs. The community has done an excellent job of bolting and maintaining this area.
The first night of the festival was putting floating candles in bouquets in the Ping River, called Loy Krathong. I don’t fully understand either of the days, but both seem to be about letting go.
I went back to Crazy Horse for a second day with some awesome people that I would end up meeting up with again in Laos. Ron and Adie on the left.
The Lantern festival at night was a beautiful thing to behold. But I also thought a lot about how much trash they were just sending somewhere else.
Chiang Mai was great, I wish I had more time to explore and climb there. But I was on to Laos to meet up with more friends.
The month of May was incredibly rainy for Colorado. For a state that typically has 300+ days of sunshine a year, an entire month that it rains almost everyday is pretty rare and infuriating. We’re here for the sun! There was very little outdoor activity we could enjoy during this month, and I was feeling quite cooped up. I decided to chase the sun.
We decided to go to Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, near Los Alamos. There was camping, hiking, and a bit of climbing to do there. And there was sun!
Bandelier National Monument is a valley with Pueblo cliff dwellings carved into the conglomerate rock walls. It’s pretty amazing to see how this culture made there homes.
Our campsite at the Juniper Campground was quite nice, and Greta making racks of lamb, steaks, asparagus, etc over the fire made it even better.
Greta’s brother, Lars, and I wanted to go climbing and found there was a crag just outside of White Rock. The parking lot is basically still in town, you walk 10 minutes out a rocky spine and down to the cliff and there are 70+ routes in volcanic basalt with an amazing view over the Rio Grande.
The sport climbing was quite sandbagged, but the trad was very fun. Not quite a destination for climbing, but a great thing to do while you’re there.
On the hike out Lars let out quite the scream. We thought he’d fallen into a cactus. He’d found himself a friend.
We climbed our way around the rattler, but I had to go back and take photos. Unfortunately he didn’t want to pose for me.
We hiked from our campsite to Bandelier and went to the Alcove House. You have to climb up a couple hundred feet and several very tall ladders to get up to see this Pueblo structure. They speculate that someone used this for weaving since they found a loom inside. Why someone would climb all the way up here just to weave is beyond me though.
We stayed at a very nice AirBnB in Sante Fe, went and looked at art, and seriously thought about buying a piece from Eric Boyer, who makes incredible steel mesh sculptures. The crazy amount of detail that are in the sculptures is amazing, but it’s even better when you see the shadows the pieces produce when a light is shined through them. The shadow looks almost like an intricate charcoal drawing.
On the drive home from Sante Fe I missed a turn and stayed on US 84 too long. By the time I figured it out it was too late to turn back. This was a great mistake. If you have a chance to drive between Sante Fe, NM and Alamosa, CO take CO/NM 17 and US 84 from Chama. It’s a spectacular drive. Here are a few of the views.
There’s a steam engine train that runs from Antonito, CO and Chama, NM
I love to travel, and my favorite part is probably stumbling onto something you didn’t mean to. That’s part of the reason I don’t like making exact plans, I like to see what I can stumble upon.