Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Malaysia Part 1 - Tioman/Mukut

Malaysia was a dream world. We expected to be dropped back into difficult travel with bartering, trying to find the right bus, people lying to us so that we will buy some service or other, etc. However, it turned out to be quite the opposite! Malaysia is one of the easiest countries that we've had the pleasure to visit, and the people some of the friendliest. Even the children were amazing, most of them smiling and going out of their way to say, "Hello!" Malay food was also some of the best of the trip. There were influences from India, China, and more. On top of that, there were even fusions of the various cuisines. So much food to try, so little time!
Part of our plan for Malaysia was rather ambitious. Scotty, a friend and long-time climbing partner from San Diego, spent much time and effort climbing an obscure route buried in the jungle of Tioman Island on the south east side of Peninsular Malaysia. After three attempts, spread over three years, he finally climbed the 300m (1000') granite face after a 5 day push during which he endured a tropical storm near the summit. Since we were headed to the area, he recommended it to us and we decided to put it on the itinerary. We weren't really prepared for a multi-day ascent, so we would have to climb the route in a single day. It would be hard, but potentially possible.

Leaving Singapore, we bused up into Malaysia to the town closest to Tioman Island. From their the speed boat taxi service dropped at the southern most of the "touristy" villages. The tourist taxi roams up and down the west coast, but we needed to go to the southern tip. I left Nath at the Jetty, and started walking around town looking for a boat. After a talking to a few people, I found someone who would take us down in their tiny motor boat for around $30. We hopped in the boat, and during the next 30 or so minutes watched the beautiful island pass by on our left and the Dragon's Horns came into view. I'll give it to Scotty, he sure picked a beautiful place to climb! It's truly stunning, and we've been quite a few amazing places on this trip. The granite face we were to climb looked steep, but featured. The rock was black and white, with huge streaks running down. I was practically drooling! When the boat landed that evening, the next mission was to find lodging and food!

We were in Kampot Mukut (Mukut Village), a tiny place where there is a single foot path across the village that can easily be walked in about 10 minutes. As we started walking toward the direction of a place to stay we had read about in the Malaysian climbing guide, we quickly realized that staying in Mukut we be a unique experience. It just seemed deserted. There were many bungalows that looked closed, no workers, no tourists, nothing. There were a few locals around, but that's about it. When we found the recommended bungalows, the name had changed to Tanjon Adventure Inn and the paths looked rather overgrown. It was completely deserted. Since none of the other bungalows looked open, I left Nath to see if I could find someone to let us rent a bungalow.

Almost immediately, the wonder of Mukut started to show through. Amir, one of the locals, asked me if I needed help. I told him that I wanted to stay at the bungaloos down the path and he said that he would help me find a worker. His English was good enough that we talked a little while we walked all the way across the village and back to find Matar. Matar greeted us with a smile, and jumped on his motorbike to zip over to the bungalows to get one ready. They were completely unprepared for tourists, since it was the low season, and we didn't even have running water for the first day and a half. Instead, we just jumped in the ocean to clean off since we literally had the only beach of the entire village to ourselves. It was truly unbelievable... That night, wandering the town for dinner we saw Amir again who pointed us toward the ONLY restaurant that served dinner. We ate there almost every night we were in Mukut and tried everything on the menu.

Day 1:

We woke up the next day ready to start work on climbing the big route. We had read trip reports from the most recent pair to climb the route (there have only been 3 teams to climb the face, ever) and they told horror stories of spending 3 days chopping a trail through the jungle, barbed vines leaving lines of infected welts all over their bodies, and slashing away with a machete that they had borrowed at the local police station. We figured that the path would have been over grown again, figured we needed a good breakfast to prepare for a big day of jungle trashing! Walking across Mukut, we couldn't even see something that resembled a restaurant. The restaurant for dinner was closed, and the two that worked there were across the street working to build a house. We kept going, until we ran into Matar. Matar greeted us with his enormous smile and asked us, "Breakfast?" We said yes, and he replied energetically, "Roti Canai!" and pointed toward the end of the village we were walking toward. We figured we'd find this roti canai he was speaking of, and kept walking happy that we would be able to eat. As we kept going, a little restaurant came into view that many locals went to for breakfast. They didn't serve much as far as we could tell, and we ordered some roti canai! It was simply amazing! It's like a little fried pancake that is served with curry in one little plate and sugar in another. You tear pieces off the roti and dip them in the sugar or curry or both. I learned that roti canai was a little piece of heaven. That curry was some of the best I've ever had! As the days went by, we figured out that the only other option for breakfast was Nasi Lemak. It's coconut flavored rice with a little spicy sauce and it's covered in tiny fried anchovies. I tried it a few times for variety, but it was no roti! We had figured out dinner, and now breakfast, but what were we going to do for lunch while hacking away in the jungle all day? Luckily, we found a tiny market and bought some crackers, peanuts, cookies and a few other little things.

Most of the rest of the day was spent in the jungle. There was an established trail that lead into the jungle up toward the Dragon's Horns, but this was more a trekking trail that wouldn't take us to the base of the main granite face. We followed it until we passed the two boulders described in the Malaysian climbing guide, and took a left off into the jungle. The Malaysian climbing guide warned us, you need to have a compass and maybe even an altimeter in order to find the granite wall. I figured that we could go without, but almost immediately realized how serious they were. It was completely impossible to tell not only the direction of the wall, and the direction we were travelling, but even something as simple as north south east west! The jungle canopy completely blocked all view of the surroundings, and when the clouds obscured the sun, we couldn't even tell which direction the sun was! Sometimes it felt like we were on an old trail, but we were essentially creating a trail from scratch. Interestingly enough, one of the hardest parts of the trail building was to leave signs of how to get back! I quickly realized that one of the ferns that was EVERYWHERE was perfect. We just bent branches about midway as a sign that we had passed that way. Sometimes we were beating essentially a tunnel and that was easy to follow, but others when we found a path of least resistance, it was scary to realize how quickly we could be lost if we hadn't left signs of our passage. Unfortunately, the same fern that was everywhere and perfect for leaving signs of our passage was the same plant with the spiked vines! We were both very careful, but we both still ended up nursing wounds with antibiotic for days afterwards due to those evil things. It wasn't nearly as horrible as the other guys made it out to be, and a machete was completely unnecessary. After a few hours of descent progress, it started to rain. Actually, I should probably describe it more as a river started pouring down on us from the sky... Since our trail was headed uphill, and the ground was getting slippery, I called it quits and we headed down. By the time we made it back to the bungalow, we were so wet that we were clean... Our filthy clothes would be perfect next time we put them on, but everything in the backpack was soaked too. Now, if you're reading this it might seem like a while back, but we had just bought our camera 2 days previously in Singapore. Yup.... that's right.... the camera was in the backpack! It was in it's original sheath, in a camera bag, in a zip lock bag, in the top of the backpack. Now, normally that would probably have kept it dry. Or maybe at least prevented it from getting wet enough to be damaged, but unfortunately the top of the backpack we brought had POOLED WATER in the top. When I opened it up, I had to pour water out! When I saw the zip lock bag had water in it, I was devastated! It was completely soaked through, all the way. We tried to dry it, but it was as futile as resisting the borg. We were in Malaysia, in one of the coolest villages we'd stayed at so far, trying to climb an unimaginably beautiful wall, and again we were without a camera!!!!! AAAAAAaaaarrrrrgh!

On top of the camera, after swimming in the ocean to cool down Nath was drying herself with a towel in front of the bungalow and got stung by a wasp in the head! Some of you have heard the story about the wasp nest that Nath walked into in the Needles back in California, when she got swarmed and they stung her many times on the head. She's still traumatized from it, so this was an extremely horrible for her and apparently so bad she could feel the poison and pain spreading through her. On top of that, she left the room to get something drying outside a few minutes later, another wasp stung her on the head! At this point, I looked outside carefully, and sure enough there was a wasp nest just under the roof of the bungalow! They were HUGE! What a way to end the day...

Day 2:

We decided to have a rest day on day 2. My hand was pretty infected from the trail building, and Nath's head was hurting from the previous day's wasp encounters. After our morning roti, which usually cost under $2 for as much as we could eat along with drinks, we hit the beach in front of our bungalow for some good old snorkeling! We put on swimming goggles and swim suits and started off into the ocean. There were corals, but there was much damage and not too much. There were beautiful fish we'd seen everywhere else on the few corals that were on the bottom, but the snorkeling wasn't fantastic. We had fun just swimming along seeing what we could find and taking it easy. After a while, so that we wouldn't get too sunburned, we headed back to the bungalows. We still had some time, and had heard about a waterfall to the east of the village. The walk there took about an hour, and when we got there it was rather late in the day. The waterfalls were similar to what we had been playing in Litchfield NP in Australia just a few weeks ago, but not nearly as inviting. Instead of swimming, we headed back toward Mukut.

Along the way, we passed a huge soccer field. Many of the locals were playing soccer, and having a great time. We stopped and watched, and after a few minutes they started motioning me to join them. I hesitated since I hadn't played for years, but gave in and joined the crowd.
I wasn't very good, but playing soccer with those guys, laughing and running around the grassy field barefoot was some of the most fun I've had on the trip. It was a really cool experience, and I was very happy when one of them told me in broken English that they play every day in the evening. I told myself that I would come play again.

That night at dinner, we met some Singaporean tourists who invited us to eat dinner with them the next night.

Day 3:

Post roti, it was another day of trail building. It was hot up there in the jungle, blindly pushing the trail farther and farther. We really had no idea if we were heading in the right direction, but intuition lead us straight to the climb. We turned where we should, scrambled gullies, and finally barged straight up the hill until the main face with uncanny accuracy and literally ended up in the perfect spot! Standing at the base of the route, I realized this was going to be more adventure than I had planned. The first pitch had no rock climbing at all.... it was a vine chocked gully, near vertical, that lead to the cleaner rock above. To lead that pitch, I would have to play Tarzan for almost 100' with questionable protection. We headed down, fixing the trail in places to ensure we could follow it if we were coming down at night, and headed to dinner!

We ate dinner with the man we met the day before, and his family. They were on an organized tour that included room and dinner, but the tour operator didn't mind feeding us as well since he always made too much food anyways. We ate amazing fish curry, fresh fruits, and more. It was fun to sit and hang out with some other people, and at the end of the dinner they introduced us to a dessert called ABC. It was really good, and they showed us the place we could buy it! We had a new place to buy food from! Whoo Hoo!

Day 4:

The next day we saw the weather was good and we went up with the gear to preview the initial pitches of the route. The plan was to climb up a few pitches, teach Nath how to jumar (ascend a rope mechanically), stash the gear, and come back another day a quickly climb the route and come back down. The hike went very quickly, and it seemed like no time before we were at the base. I quickly racked up and flaked out the rope and headed off up the first pitch. It started with ledge scrambling and a little vine pulling, but quickly the angle steepens and the only thing to grab are vines. I determined that the best strategy was to grab as many vines as possible to minimize my chance of having them pull out sending me to the ground, and I started hauling myself up the wall. As I progressed, there were a few places to grab actual rock, but it really was mostly vine climbing. Eventually, after much hesitation about what I was doing, I managed to pull myself up onto a large forested ledge and sling a large tree to belay off of. Nath quickly followed up, and I started off on the next pitch.

The next pitch was real rock climbing, and it was hard. I found a bolted line, that Scotty may or may not have climbed. I believe that he climbed more vines up a face to the right according to his topo (route description) but there were bolts protecting some very thin face climbing. They were added relatively recently, but they still showed signs of rusting due to the climate and the proximity to the salty ocean. Within 20' of climbing, I was already hanging on the bolts not wanting to take a fall on them due to their quality, and I ended up stepping on one of the bolts to pass a very difficult move. Higher, the difficulty eased and a crack appeared which could be protected by cams. The crack was rather dirty though, and the rock quality not the best. After finishing up a 10-15 meter corner, I ended up on a ledge with a single newer bolt for belay and what appeared to be Scotty's original extremely rusted bolts. I backed up the single bolt with some large cams, fixed the rope, and rappelled back down to join Nath.

Once on the ground, I showed Nath how to jumar. She took to it quite quickly, and was chugging up the pitch in no time. Once on top, I had her put me on belay and I reclimbed the pitch barely pulling off the move where I had stepped on the bolt before. The pitch showed a rating of around 5.9 with maybe some aid. I headed out on easy territory and quickly found myself looking at a horror show of a lead. It was a steep leaning crack, wet from the humidity covered with a strange dirty slimy layer that would compress when cams were placed and pulled, and on top of all that it was wide. I smiled to myself and thought, "Only Scotty...." As I struggled up the crack, I botched a foot sequence and ended up hanging on the rope. Above, the crack ended in a protectionless roof. There was an old bolt, possibly Scotty's, right where the crack ended, but I had a cam right next to it and the bolt was so bad that even I wouldn't clip it. My motto is often, "if it's there, clip it!" I started working my way up into the roof feeling for holds, smearing on tiny feet on the slab below. I moved up and left away from my gear and had to make a final massive reach to great holds above. As I hauled my feet over the roof, I knew I was done with that pitch. I placed two pieces of gear to protect Nathalie since the anchor was off to the side, and finished off the pitch.

Nath came up and had a little trouble with the wide crack and roof but eventually pulled through the moves. We were sitting on a nice large sloping ledge where I'm sure previous parties had stayed the night. The rock quality so far had been quite low, but it looked much better and cleaner above. The next pitch didn't look too bad, and it leaned hard left meaning retreat might become more difficult, so Nath and I decided that we had previewed enough and rappelled back down to the ground. We stowed our gear under a rock and made the jungle hike back down to the hut.

On the way down to the hut, I made the horrible realization that I had left the key in the top of the backpack which was stowed at the base of the climb! The funny thing is, in climbing you don't store your gear often, and one of the only other times I've stored a back was with Scotty and we did the same thing and had to do an extra 8 miles of hiking at night to retrieve the keys! I was ready to go back, but Nath convinced me that we could find another way into the room. I told her we could try since we were only 15 minutes from the bungalow. When I got to the room, I figured out that I could easily remove the glass from the window, which I did, and we were back in the room!

Once we were done with the hike and back in the room, we got in our swimming suits and headed down to the beach. Today, there were others staying in one of the bungalows, and as we headed down to the water they yelled and pointed at the water. We looked down, and on the beach was the biggest turtle I've ever seen in my life. It looked like it was easily a meter long! The huge guy pulled himself up on shore for a bit, then turned around and headed back into the water. And us without a camera!!!!! Oh well, seems like it's the theme of the trip.

At dinnertime, we ended up eating with some locals who were very nice and had some of the best food we ate our whole time in Malaysia. They lived in Mersing, the city from which you boat to Tioman Island, and brought tour groups from Singapore out for a few days at a time. They had a group there for part of the time we were there and luckily they invited us for dinner on their last night there. There was endless seafood, and then endless dessert. The seafood was probably caught a few hours before and was just perfection. They were very nice, and we talked quite a bit. They told us about how they watch the news often and that part of the US was severely flooded at the moment. It was funny to get current news from a Malaysian local in a remote part of an island. After that they had us go talk to their clients who had endless questions about our climbing of the Dragon's Horns. The clients gave us free beer too! It was a good night.

Day 5:

We decided to take a rest day since the weather was suboptimal and we wanted to be completely fresh for our big push. The others who were staying a few bungalows down were in the restaurant area of the place, and they yelled at us to come join them, which we did. It turned out that they were the owner and his son, who live in Kuala Lumpur. It was the low season so they didn't expect any guests. I don't remember their names since we met them over a month ago, and we only spent one day with them, but they were just like everyone else in Mukut; friendly, happy, kind, and giving. They were drinking Nescafe like water and they offered it to Nath and I. I joined in, and soon I had a good sugar/caffiene buzz going. Matar was there, who works for them, and they were playing checkers. They use a larger board than I was used to, and they taught me how to play. Checkers is a common game, but I really had no idea the rules when you get a "king." They just bounce all over the place! It's wild. Matar was the master and could defeat anyone. I got my butt kicked. Nath and I played and I think we were about evenly matched if I remember right. As lunch approached, they asked us if we wanted to join them. Matar and the owner had been hunting in the jungle for mouse deer and caught one. They were Matar was cooking up mouse deer curry!!! What an amazing opportunity! We, of course, took them up on their offer and had another amazing meal with the locals! Mukut really was a magical place. That was their last day there, they only came for 2-3 days, and they took off that afternoon.

I finished the day with another round of soccer with the locals! :) I got better, but I still wasn't great.

Day 6: The big day!

We were up around 5:30 and hiking around 6am. It was potentially going to be a big day. The route was hard, and various characteristics made for slow climbing. We blasted the trail to the base in under an hour, tossed the ropes out, I racked up and I unhappily started jungle pulling again to complete the first pitch. It really wasn't fun since there was no protection and if the vines went, I went. In a matter of minutes I was on the ledge and bringing Nathalie up. We finished the first of 10 pitches in 15 minutes! Unfortunately, we forgot the topo so Nath had to go back down... We finished the first of 10 pitches AGAIN in 22 minutes! :)

I knew what to expect from the next pitch and where the difficulties were so I knew it would go faster. I was planned on going all the way to our previous highpoint and linking the two pitches from the day before. I climbed up through the bolts, decided time was more important than style and stepped on the bolt again, flew up the crack in a corner, and passed the next ledge which had a tree growing out of it, that I had stopped at the day before. Now I was at the base of the wide dirty wet crack leaning crack, but I knew how to climb it. I managed it easier than expected, and soon I was pulling through the roof and bringing my feet up. As soon as I was standing above the roof on a good ledge for my feet I was very relieved. I moved up a move or two and started looking for where I put the gear in two days ago. While I was looking around, I realized the rope was hooked under the roof I had just pulled myself over. I leaned down and flicked it free, and in the process my instincts went haywire. For no apparent reason, I felt myself off balance and moving backward. I immediately screamed, "FALLING," twice so Nath could hopefully haul in some rope and prepare for the coming impact on her end. She did wonderfully, but I was already a ways above my last piece since the roof had no protection, and I took a huge swinging fall of around 10m/35' into the tree growing out of the ledge below snapping a few medium size branches off of it. The block I had been holding had just detached from the face and and gone flying, as had I. It was rather scary, and luckily Nath wasn't hit by any of the debris, rock or tree that had come crashing down past her. Also, I had managed to get away unscathed except a little lost skin where I had impacted on the tree.

I've learned that when climbing, you have to be proactive to not give into the fear. Instead of hanging there, focusing on what happened, I just pulled myself hand over hand back up the rope, to where my highest cam was in the crack. Moving is better than thinking sometimes. When I got to the last piece, I was surprised to see that due to the coating in the crack, the 0.5 camalot had slid over 6" almost entirely out of the crack and was precariously holding me up by 2 of the 4 lobes! I started climbing again, reset the cam deeper in the crack, and pulled the roof one last time. After building the anchor, I brought Nath up and we sat on the ledge looking at the next pitch and discussing options.

The next pitch didn't look too hard to climb, but the protection was pathetic to say the least. There was at least one bolted variation to what Scotty had climbed out left, but some sort of chemical ooze that seeped out of the rock above had corroded the bolts to less than worthless in a matter of a couple years! Even the granite, which is one of the sturdiest rocks, was corroded as if acid had been poured on it. It looked almost like featured limestone. Scotty's variation followed a crack, but I knew that higher there would be a high probability that bolts would be necessary for safe climbing where the two variations met, and even if I followed Scotty's variation I didn't trust my gear as much due to the coating on the inside of the crack. With the low quality rock, poor protection, and remote nature of the climb (no rescue really), I threw in the towel. The climb wasn't for us. Instead we sat down on the large ledge and just appreciated the amazing view down on the jungle, beaches, ocean, and islands for about an hour. If we had a bolt kit, and significantly more time, I would have stayed and finished the route on such a beautiful location, but we didn't and I think we made the right choice in retreating.

If anyone ever goes up to do that climb, be aware that the bolts deteriorate very rapidly, possibly as quickly as in Krabi, Thailand. The bolts should probably be replaced with titanium glue-ins of the same quality used in Krabi. The route has only seen 3 ascents, and it already has multiple bolted variations, old really bad bolts and newer rusted bolts, and it's starting to look ugly. Do it right, because it is truly an amazing piece of rock, in a world class location. I wish I could have gotten to the quality pitches up higher, safely. Maybe we'll be back!

We rappelled, packed the bags, and headed down the trail. When we met up with the trekking trail, we decided to explore it. We dumped our packs and headed off up the hiker's trail. As we slogged uphill, we realized that we were getting closer and closer to where our trail went! In the end, we found a relatively good trail that lead us right to the base of the climb already in existance! Ha! Oh well, it'll just be easier next time. With that knowledge, we headed back down the trail feeling somewhat defeated, but happy with our overall experience in Mukut.

That evening, I played one last game of soccer with the guys and managed to even score a goal! I was definitely improving (but still not nearly as good as them) and loving it.

Day 7:

We left Mukut after a truly special week there. The people there were some of the friendliest I've ever met in my life, anywhere, and we had many great experiences that we'll always remember. It's really fun to have every child in a village yell, "Hello!" every time you walk by.... Almost all of the villagers asked us when we were coming back and tried to convince us to come next year! We failed at the climb, but we found an amazing little niche of the world we otherwise would have missed. Outside of staying with my brother for a few weeks, our time in Mukut was one of the better experiences of the trip.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Le 17 juillet 2008: Malaysie

Ah, la Malaysie :) Jusqu'a maintenant c'est notre pays prefere du voyage. C'est tellement facile de voyager ici. A part Kuala Lumpur qui fait exception. Partout ailleurs , les gens sont extremement gentils et fiables; les enfants sont adorables; les transports en communs sont ridiculement pas cher et de qualite/confort impressionnant; et surtout, la bouffe est bonne, mais tellement bonne!!! C'est directement du a leur histore, il y a les Malaysiens originaux, les descendants indiens et les descendants chinois. Donc on retrouve des mets de toutes ces cuisines en plus de melanges typiques. La seule chose bizarre qu'on ne comprend pas c'est qu'ils coupent la queue des chats a mi-longueur??!!?!!! Enfin, trois semaine en Malaysie c'etait presque pas assez! Alors voici plus de detail sur nos aventures en Malaysie.

Jour 0 - Un autre gros projet d'escalade en tete. Scotty, l'ami de Josh et son partenaire d'escalade a San Diego, a ete le premier a grimper le 'Dragon Horn', un mur de granite situe sur l'ile de Tioman. Depuis, que 3 autres equipes ont repete l'exploit. Nous avons comme mission d'y aller. Si tout va bien, je serai la premiere femme a me retrouver tout en haut de ces 300m de roches. Mais avant, il y a 300m de jungle a franchir et il faut reussit a se rendre sur cette ile. Lors de notre magasinage durant notre derniere journee a Singapour, on a achete entre autres une nouvelle camera, une deuxieme corde et d'autre equipement d'escalade requis pour l'ascension du Dragon Horn. On part donc tres tot le matin. Premiere etape, attrapper un bus qui se rend au bord de la Malaysie. Puis on doit traverser les douanes. Ca veut dire debarquer du bus, sortir de Singapour, retrouver le bus, debarquer encore, entrer en Malaysie, retrouver le bus une deuxieme fois. Tout ca a l'air facile, mais c'est pas toujours evident quand on ne sait pas ou aller, quand y'a pas grand chose d'indique dans un language qu'on connait et quand on a personne a qui se renseigner. Mais j'vous dis, on s'en vient bon, a apprend toutes sortes de trucs a voyager. Cette fois-ci, ma strategie consistait a memoriser de vue 3-4 personnes qui semble venir d'ici et tenter d'en suivre au moins une. Ca a bien marche les deux fois et en moins de 30 min. on etait sortis des douanes, ye. Deuxieme etape, trouver un bus pour aller a Mersing, un village sur la cote. La encore, je ne me fais plus arreter par les vendeurs qui essaient d'arnaquer les touristes. Je marche d'un pas convaincu a travers toutes ces personnes, cherchant l'autre cote de la station de bus, la ou c'est tranquille et ou les locaux achetent leurs billets. En quelques minutes on a trouve un bus qui part dans la prochaine heure et pour pas cher. Parfait, tout va bien. Troisieme etape, debarques a la station d'autobus a Mersing, on doit trouver le port d'ou partent les bateaux. On a aucune idee ou l'on est et on ne connait pas la ville. Ceux a qui on demandent refusent de nous aider si on ne prend pas leur bateau. Mais on ne sait pas si on peut leur faire confiance. Je commence a etre fatiguee. Josh prend la releve. On marche dans une direction aleatoire, sur une rue qui semble principale. Josh arrive a lire des similitudes avec l'anglais sur des signaux en Malaysien et on finit par trouver le port apres pres d'un km de marche sous la chaleur avec nos tres lourds sac-a-dos remplis d'encore plus d'equipement d'escalade. Bref, on trouve un traversier qui part dans quelques minutes. ye. Mais arrive sur l'ile de Tioman, ce n'est pas finit. On debarque a Gensing. On doit maintenant trouver quelqu'un qui a un bateau et qui veut bien nos amener jusqu'a Mukut au sud de l'ile. Mukut s'est un tout petit village ou les touristes (et donc les bateaux) ne vont pas. Mais nous on veut y aller car c'est de la qu'on peut grimper le Dragon Horn. On marche donc dans Mersing et on trouve un magasin de plongee. Josh va s'informer et arrive a nous negocier une 'ballade' en chaloupe a moteur jusqu'a Mukut. 30 minutes plus tard on y est enfin... mais c'est pas finit, la derniere etape est de trouver un endroit ou dormir. Comme y'a pas de touristes ici, y'a pas d'hotels! On trouve de petits bungalows au bout du village. Mais il n'y a personne et ca semble abandonne. Je reste avec les bagages et Josh part a la recherche du proprio dans le village (qui ne fait qu'une rue!). Il finit par trouver quelqu'un qui parle anglais et qui lui aide a trouver quelqu'un qui a la clee des bungalows, car le proprietaire habite a Kuala Lumpur! A part que ca a pris 2 jours avant qu'ils arrivent a etablir l'eau jusqu'a notre bungalow (i.e. toilette et douche froide), tout est bien qui finit bien. On a la petite plage a nous tout seul, c'est beau, tranquille et magnifique, une "deuxieme lune de miel" comme les gens du village nous ont dit :) Ici on leur laisse croire qu'on est maries pour eviter les problemes...

Jour 1 - Premier matin a Mukut. On a bien dormi, surtout apres la grosse journee d'hier. Et qu'il fait bon de se reveiller dans notre petit paradis perdu. Autant les gens sont surpris de nous voir la, autant ils sont si gentils avec nous. On se sent comme le roi et la reine. Hier soir, en prenant une marche au village, un vieil homme nous a gentiment offert deux grosses noix de cocos fraiches pour nous souhaiter la bienvenue. Ce matin, ce sont les enfants qui sont tellement cutes et qui nous disent "hello" sans arret en nous faisant des bye-byes de la main. Puis, on croise les travailleurs (ils construisent un nouveau pont), parmis ceux-ci, l'homme qui nous a donne la clee du bungalow nous dit: "Breakfast? Roti canai!" et nous fait signe de continuer un peu plus loin sur la route. On trouve donc le seul endroit ouvert pour dejeuner. Comme y'a pas de touristes ici, y'a pas non plus de restaurants. On commande donc 2 roti canai. C'est une espece de crepe indienne servi avec un curry de poisson bien epice. Pas les dejeuners auxquels on est habitues, mais heureusement on a aime ca, car avec un the au lait condense-sucre, ca a ete la seule option pour toute la semaine! Puis, en chemin on croise un mini depanneur qui vent des peanuts et des biscuits genre Oreo. On en achete quelques paquets, ca sera nos lunchs pour la semaine! On doit grimper a nos limites avec une nutrition un peu defaillante, c'est aussi ca l'aventure!! On part donc pour une premiere journee dans la jungle. On doit creer notre propre sentier. Beaucoup de travail, la vegetation est tres dense et on n'a pas d'outils autres que nos deux mains. On a pas non plus de compas et on ne voit pas le soleil pour nous aider. On y va donc avec notre intuition. Apres quelques heures de 'travail', c'est l'orage, mais un vrai orage tropical! On retourne donc en direction du bungalow. Malheur, l'eau a infiltre notre sac-a-dos et a forme un bassin d'eau a l'interieur. Malgre que protegee par un etui et un sac de plastique, notre belle camera toute neuve achetee il y a meme pas 2 jours a Singapour est deja brisee, on en a vraiment le coeur gros. Qu'a-t-on fait pour meriter cette malchance avec toutes nos cameras? Donc pas de photos pour la Malaysie :( Apres la pluie et une baignade a notre plage 'privee' pour se consoler, ma deuxieme malchance. Comme je me seche sur notre balcon, une guepe, et oui encore les guepes, mais cette fois-ci une grosse guepe tropicale qui doit faire plus d'un pouce de long, noire et orange, me pique juste sur la tempe a cote de l'oeil. Je ne l'ai meme pas vu, j'ai qu'entendu le bourdonnement epeurant et vu la face de Josh se disant "c'etait une grosse celle-la". Je nous enferme dans le bungalow criant de panique et pleurant (j'sais pas si je finirai par me remettre de l'histoire de l'automne passee), ca brule comme un vaccin, je sens le poison descendre dans mes veines. Mais je dois ressortir quelques minutes plus tard ramasser mon sac laisse sur le balcon. Je prends mon courage a deux mains, Josh ne veut pas y aller car il n'est pas habille et je dois vaincre ma peur. Et bien pendant les quelques secondes ou j'etais dehors une autre grosse guepe (ou peut-etre la meme?) fonce directement vers moi et me pique derriere la tete comme j'etais penchee pour ramasser mon sac. S'en est trop. Josh deduit qu'il doit y avoir un nid, et comme de fait, juste la au-dessus de notre porte, une bonne dizaine de grosses guepes bourdonnent. Le soir je sors en courant, on doit aller manger, un seul restaurant est aussi ouvert pour souper, mais celui-la a 5-6 mets au menu, tous ecrits en Malaysien, on les essaie au hazard. En chemin on a croise la personne responsable du bungalow qui nous a donne une bouteille de spray pour les insectes (c'est tout petit le village, on voit tout le monde a chaque jour), Josh s'est charge de tuer les guepes et de detruire le nid...

Jour 2 - Journee de repos force. Ma tempe et derrire ma tete la ou j'ai ete piquee c'est tout enfle et j'ai des maux de tetes incroyables. Par chance je traine maintenant toujours des Benadril avec moi. Quand a Josh, sa main est enflee et infectee a cause d'une plante qui l'a mal pique dans la jungle hier. Elles sont parfois mechantes les plantes vigoureuses de la jungle! Mais on passe une tres belle journee sur notre petite ile. Juste dire bonjour aux enfants et aux habitants (a chaque jour on s'efforce d'apprendre un nouveau mot en Malaysien) ca met du bonheur dans la vie! Puis repos et snorkelling a notre petite plage. Dans l'apres-midi on est alle visiter les chutes d'eau, la seule 'attraction' a l'autre bout du village. Au retour, tous les ados et jeunes adultes du village etaient reunis pour jouer au soccer. Comme on passait (je le repete, y'a vraiment juste une rue ici!) ils ont gentiment invite Josh a jouer avec eux. Il ne pouvait pas dire non, ils etaient tous a essayer de le convaincre malgre qu'ils ne parlent pratiquement pas anglais. Je suis restee a regarder, apparemment ici le soccer est reserve aux 'hommes'. On s'est bien amuse. Ils sont tellement drole, souriant et plein d'entrain, ils jouent vraiment pour s'amuser. Mon prefere etait le gardien de but. Minuscule mais bien decoupe, j'suis meme pas certaine s'il pese 100lbs, il courrait a toute allure pour aller chercher le ballon lorsque sorti des limites du terrain, et malgre qu'il riait tout le temps, on pouvait voir la peur dans sa face lorsqu'un joueur de l'equipe adverse tentait de marquer un but, il etait si petit devant ce gros but de soccer et le ballon qui arrivait a toute allure, j'crois qu'il arrivait a l'arreter les yeux fermer pour ensuite recommencer a ricaner!!! Josh est retourne quelques-fois jouer avec eux, ici c'est l'activite principale a chaque jour avant le souper.

Jour 3 - De retour au travail! On doit terminer notre sentier vers la paroi rocheuse. Intuition du tonnerre, au premier coup on a trouve la base de la grimpe! Ca semble presque impossible, sans compas ni altimetre, apres plusieurs heures, on ne s'est pas perdu et on a marche tout ce temps dans la bonne direction. En retournant vers le bungalow, on travaille a rendre notre sentier facilement reconnaissable a vue d'oeil. Moi je m'occcupe des banches au sol, et Josh de celles plus hautes dans les airs. Le soir, on rencontre un gars de Singapour qui etait a Mukut dans un "voyage tout compris" pour le week-end avec sa famille et son collegue de travail. Ce sont les seuls visiteurs ici, des groupes de Singapour qui viennent ici dans une formule tout-organise pour une couple de jours. Il nous invite gentiment a partager leur repas. On termine donc la journee "entre amis" avec un vrai festin. Du poulet, des crevettes grillees, des legumes, du jus de fruit et meme un verre de vin, le grand luxe ici!! Quelle belle facon de celebrer notre sentier!

Jour 4 - On retourne dans la jungle, cette fois-ci avec tout l'equipement d'escalade. Notre sentier prend environ 1h30 de marche abrupte. Le plan est d'essayer de grimper le debut de la paroi pour s'assurer qu'on est bien au bon endroit, puis de trouver une cachette a l'abri de la pluie pour laisser notre equipement ici afin que ca aille plus vite le matin de la 'grosse' journee d'escalade. Tout se passe comme prevu et on retourne au bungalow en fin de journee. Ce soir on est encore chanceux. Un couple de Malaysien qui s'occupait d'un autre groupe de visiteurs de Singapour, et donc qui parlaient anglais, nous invitent a partager leur souper BBQ. Un autre festin et encore gratuit! Les plus grosses et les meilleurs langoustines que j'ai vu de ma vie et tout plein d'autres fruits de mer incluant certains dont j'ai aucune idee c'est quoi. Tout ce qu'ils nous demandent en retour c'est de jaser avec le groupe de visiteurs qui sont curieux a propos de notre projet d'escalade. Ils sont des jeunes de Singapour, ils nous offrent la biere qu'ils ont apporte jusqu'ici (car il n'y a pas de tout sur cette ile!) et nous ont est tellement heureux d'avoir des "amis" avec qui passer la soiree! Mais on va se coucher tot, demain c'est le grand jour...

Jour 5 - Le ciel est gris et il pleut! On doit donc remettre le projet d'escalade. C'est dimanche, les deux groupes de visiteurs de Singapour sont repartis. Le village est a nouveau desert. Mais il y a 3 nouvelles personnes prenant le cafe pres de notre bungalow. C'est le proprietaire et ses deux fils. Ils sont ici pour la journee. Ils nous invitent a se joindre a eux. Le proprietaire, quoi qu'on ne l'ait jamais vu puisqu'il habite a Singapour, nous dit qu'il nous aime bien puis qu'on est pas complique. J'comprends donc, on est arrive ici, on a trouve le bungalow, on a dit qu'on voulait rester ici, on a pas marchande le prix qui etait resonnable, on avait pas d'eau les deux premiers jours, mais a chaque fois on a dit: "OK!". Apres tout on voulait etre ici et ce n'est pas comme si on avait d'autres options!! Alors en retour il dit qu'il aimerait nous inviter pour le lunch. Quelle parfaite facon de passer cette journee pluvieuse. On a jouer "aux dames" (j'crois que c'est comme ca que ca s'appelle, ca se joue sur un echiquier, les pions avancent en diagonal, je n'avais pas jouer depuis 20 ans!) avec ses garcons qui etaient a peu pres de notre age. On a une fois de plus eu la chance de discuter avec des habitants d'ci. C'etait comme passer un dimanche apres-midi en famille, des petites choses comme ca qui nous manquent durant le voyage. Et la cerise sur le sunday, le responsable qui nous avait donne la clee du bungalow s'est improvise chef-cuisinier et nous a concocte ce delicieux curry maison avec du "mouse-deer" frais chasse!!! Je ne sais meme pas ce que c'est que cet animal, ni ce qu'est le nom en francais, mais une fois cuit ca ressemblait a un lapin et c'etait vraiment bon, une specialite locale qu'on ne retrouve pas au restaurant, quelle chance :)

Jour 6 - On met l'alarme a 5h15 du matin! A 6h on est pret a partir. Il fait encore noir, c'est un peu epeurant de se promener dans la jungle avec une lampe de poche. Mais ca fait parti du plan. On doit gagner du temps. Une longue journee nous attends. A 7h10 on est arrive au pied de la roche. Ca a ete beaucoup plus vite de faire la randonnee sans les gros sacs a dos. Tout ce qu'on trainait c'etait nos provisions d'eau, de lait de soya, de peanuts et de craquelins, hmm tout un menu! On retrouve donc notre equipement cache et a 7h25 on est pret a grimper. Il y a 10 longueurs de corde a monter. La premiere des 10 etapes consiste a s'agriper aux vignes pour arriver a monter. C'est du vrai Scotty ca, pas le fun du tout. Vers 8h, on est tous les deux en haut de la premiere partie et on se rend compte qu'on a oublie le topo dans le sac-a-dos (en escalade, il est tres facile de se perdre et de reste pris sur une grosse paroi rocheuse comme celle-ci si on ne suit pas attentivement une map detaillee). Comme j'ai grimpe en deuxieme et que je suis encore attachee a la corde, c'est moi qui ira chercher le topo puisque ca ira plus vite. Josh me descend donc a travers les arbres et les vignes, puis je dois remonter encore, vraiment pas l'fun, mais ca fait parti du projet!! A 8h10 Josh commence a grimper la deuxieme partie, cette fois c'est de la vrai escalade de roche plutot difficile. Juste comme il terminait et s'apretait a s'attacher a l'ancrage, un gros morceau de roche auquel il s'agripait casse et Josh prend une bonne chute d'environ 10m de long. Moi tout ce que j'ai entendu c'est la roche debouler, une branche d'arbre que la roche a cassee en chemin qui deboule aussi et Josh crier qu'il tombe. Instantanement je m'accroupie pour prendre de la corde et faire en sorte que Josh tombe de moins haut et pour me proteger afin de ne pas recevoir la roche par la tete. Tout va quand meme bien, on est pas blesse, Josh remonte et je monte a mon tour. Vers 9h on a termine les deux premieres parties. Cote temps tout va bien, c'est assez rapide. On devrait avoir le temps d'atteindre le sommet et de redescendre avant la noirceur. Malheureusement on s'apercoit que les "bolts" (qu'on utilise pour y accrocher notre corde au fur et a mesure qu'on monte) que l'equipe de Malaysiens avait place il y a environ 2 ans pour remplacer celles de Scotty sont deja toutes rouillees. Probablement a cause du climat tropical leur duree de vie est apparemment bien ecourtee. On ne peut donc pas se fier a ces "bolts", car on ne sait pas si elles sont encore assez solides pour retenir une chute. En plus que la qualite de la roche est plutot pauvre (se qu'on se doutait et qui vient de nous etre prouve par le gros morceau qui a casse). On discute, on boserve la roche au dessus de nous, on tente de trouver peut-etre un autre chemin pour monter cette section, mais on n'a pas moyen de savoir si l'etat des "bolts" s'ameliorera ou si elles sont toutes comme ca. Bref, a cause de toutes sortes de facteurs comme ca qui sont hors de notre control, et puisqu'on n'a pas avec nous d'outils pour remplacer les "bolts", a 9h30 on accepte la conclusion qu'on ne se rendra pas au sommet, du moins pas pour cette fois. Decision tres difficile a prendre, surtout apres tous les efforts qu'on a mis pour se rendre jusqu'ici, mais l'escalade doit rester securitaire, et la on est dans une situation ou il y a des risques qu'on ne veut pas courir. Il faut garder l'escalade amusant et securitaire. C'est donc heureux, mais avec le coeur gros qu'on redescent sans trop parler... A 11h on est de retour au Bungalow. On decide d'aller se promener et d'explorer le sentier amenage pour les groupes de touristes qui va dans la jungle dans l'autre direction. Et bien imaginez-vous donc qu'au bout de ce sentier, y'a un autre sentier qui contourne la roche et qui rejoint notre sentier qu'on a construit!!! Pendant tout ce temps c'etait la, on aurait pu sauver une couple de jours d'arrachage de brousailles dans la jungle, mais on ne savait juste pas, ce n'est meme pas mentione dans le guide d'escalade qu'il y a maintenant un tout nouveau sentier entretenu. On a fait du mieux qu'on pouvait avec l'information qu'on avait, on ne regrette rien, on s'est bien amuse pendant toutes ces journees, mais j'avoue que c'etait une drole de sensation, que je ne trouvais un peu stupides par-dessus la sensation d'echec de ne pas se rendre au sommet, mais ce n'est pas notre faute, y'avait pas moyen de savoir...

Le lendemain on quitte Mukut, triste de laisser tous ces gens sympatiques derrieres nous et de ne pas avoir accompli notre projet, mais heureux de continuer le voyage. Durant les deux semaines suivantes on s'est promenes un peu partout en Malaysie. On est alle au parc national Taman Negara ou on a entre autre vu un village d'aborigenes Orang Asli. C'etait interessant de lire les descriptions de toutes les plantes qu'on connaissait maintenant tres bien! Le cote negatif est qu'il a pleut toute la nuit et que les sentiers etaient remplis de sangsues. Josh qui ne craint rien par avec ses sandales. Moi j'y vais avec mes grossses bottes, mes pantalons, etc. C'etait pas mal chaud pour se promener a 30-40 degres humide. Et bien avec ma mal chance, c'est moi qui m'ait fait prendre. La sangsue a monter tout le long de ma botte et de mes bas pour s'accrocher a ma jambe. Ca a pris 4 allumettes pour reussir a l'enlever. Apres ca j'ai appris le truc et j'ai mis mes pantalons dans mes bas!!! Puis on a pris le "jungle" train pour se rendre a Kota Bahru dans le nord de la Malaysie. C'etait toute une experience, 8h sans air climatisee, mais avec des divertissements comme les chariots de nourriture, les ecoliers, etc. On est reste a Kota Bahru qu'un seul soir, le temps de se regaler au marche. Hmmmm, cocktails a base de lait de coco, riz bleu avec herbes fraiches (la specialite ici), poulet et boeuf marine et grille, des crepes et des tonnes de patisseries, tout ce festin pour moins de 5$ pour nous deux :) On est ensuite alle a l'ile Perhentian ou on est reste 3 jours pour suivre notre certification avancee de plongee. C'etait vraiment bien, on a vu des requins, une epave et appris beaucoup. Par contre on a pas beaucoup profite de la belle plage de sable blanc puisqu'on passait notre temps sous l'eau ou a faire nos devoirs pour le cours. Puis on est descendu du cote ouest et arrete a Cameron Highlands ou on a visite des plantations de the, une ferme de papillons (le guide s'est amuse a me mettre un gros scorpion d'environ 20cm de long sur le bras me disant que ce n'est pas dangereux si je ne bouge pas. Plutot desagreable comme sensation surtout lorsqu'il s'est mis a monter vers mon epaule et que le guide riait de moi plutot que de l'enlever!!) et mange des fraises :) Je crois que c'est le seul endroit en Asie ou ils ont un climat permettant de faire pousser des fraises. On s'est bien amuses et encore une fois bien regales. On a termine notre visite par Kuala Lumpur, qu'a pas trop aime puisque les gens n'etaient pas aussi gentils et les transports en commun sont totalement inefficace. Mais on en a profite pour aller au gym d'escalade (le plus grand gym d'escalade du sud-est de l'asie, et le plus beau gym d'escalade qu'on a vu) ainsi que grimper a la grotte Bathu. La grotte abrite un temple Indien qu'on a visite, et ou on ne peut evidemment pas grimper (wow, ca serait un autre paradis d'escalade sinon!) mais autour, a l'exterieur de la grotte, il y a des voies d'escalade. J'y ai aussi pris mon premier cours de cuisine, j'ai adore, je m'ennuie de mes chaudrons!!! Une premiere journee sans Josh depuis tres longtemps, mais il etait tres content puisqu'ils nous ont donne un petit plat de plastique pour ramener nos restants de bouffe! On est aussi retourner magasiner pour acheter une nouvelle camera. Notre nouveau bebe, cette fois-ci on y fait tellement attention, on la traine dans un etuit a l'epreuve de l'eau etc. Certaines personnes commencent avec une plante ou un chien, nous on doit d'abord apprendre a s'occuper d'une camera...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

PHOTOS Australie 4 PICTURES !!!

We have the last of the Australia photos up!


Et voici les dernieres photos de notre voyage en Australie...

Singapore - Back in SE Asia

Leaving Darwin, we took a quick flight to nearby Singapore. We were back in SE Asia for the rest of the year! Singapore is interesting. It is a city and a country, and the country isn't much more than the city. The current population is around 4.5 million, and with such tiny space Singaporians have definitely learned to build up! Singapore is also a unique blend of multipule cultures. We stayed in Chinatown while we were there, but we also ventured to Little India. The area is truly cosmopolitan, and it known as one of the better places to eat in the world due to variety and quality of the cuisines represented. Well, we did our best to try new foods, and quickly learned that the hype was warranted! Taking our knowledge from Thailand, that the cheaper/better food is in the street style stalls, we found many excellent new dishes at extremely low prices.

Like in Melbourne, we weren't able to enjoy the city as much as we could because we were so busy shopping around trying to buy things that we needed for the months ahead. Our missions included buying a new camera, since we no longer had one, I needed new shoes since mine were falling apart and I wanted to start running again to stay in shape, and buying a 60m rope for rappelling off a route in Malaysia that we intended to try (more on this in the Malaysia post that's coming). Like Melbourne, we walked the town up and down and explored the shops, malls, and markets looking for the best deals. In the end, we bought a new Canon IXUS860 (same as the SD870 in the US/Canada I believe), a wide angle point and shoot, a 70m 8mm tagline that was light and much cheaper than any other options, and I found some obscenely light Asics that are perfect for backpacking.

While in Singapore we managed to get off the beaten path some. Our first night we went to a local bar that had an extremely good band that did covers of American music and hung out with Nathalie's friend Vincent who lives there. Another day we visited him at his apartment when he threw a party with coworkers, and we went for a much needed swim in the pool at his apartment complex. There was a month long art festival going on while we were there so we went to see something different, a Cantonese Opera. It was truly a unique experience, the singing style and the music were completely foreign. The music was way too much percussion for my tastes, and we had no idea what was going due to the language barrier, so Nath and I balied at the intermission since it appeared it would probably last over 3 hours. We managed to hit the climbing gym in Singapore twice while we were there to start getting the muscles going for the upcoming route we would be trying in Malaysia. It was small, but had a cool lead wall about 15m tall that was outside. I think that the best hour and a half that we spent in Singapore was at a yoga studio. No one else showed up for the scheduled session, and the instructor just did a private class for Nath and I and did much instruction and correction of our poses. It was an amazing opportunity with the best yoga instructor I've ever had!

After about 4 days, it was time to hop on the bus north and cross the border up into Malaysia!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Photos AUSTRALIE 3 Pictures !!!

Mo pictures mo betta! The pictures from the end of our trip to Arapiles/Grampians through our stay in Jindabyne with Josh's brother Pete are up.


Une troisieme serie de photos de l'Australie sont pretes pour vous!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Le 13 juin 2008: Singapour

Cette fois on l'a choisie notre journee de vol international: un vendredi le 13!!! A part avoir apercu un chat noir en arrivant a Singapour, tout a bien ete, hihi. Environ 4h30 de vol. On avait prepare nos derniers sandwiches en vue de la diete au riz blanc qui nous attend pour les prochains 6 mois! On a bien hate de retourner en Asia. L'Australie c'etait super, mais ca va faire du bien au budget de retourner dans des pays plus 'cheap'. Mais pour l'instant, Singapour c'est pas si 'cheap' que ca. On avait pas eu la chance de reserver a l'avance notre hotel. Mais les telephones publics a l'aeroport sont gratuits. Par contre, toutes les chambres les moins dispendieuses etaient reservees pour tout le week-end. On se retrouve donc dans un dortoir avec 12 personnes en plein milieu du Chinatown! Mais ca va, l'auberge est toute petite, 'propre' selon les normes de l'Asie! et tres sympathique. On prend le train (equivalent du metro) pour se deplacer. Ici la population est surtout Chinoise et Indienne. Donc on peut manger pour vraiment pas cher dans les 'food court' chinois et indien. J'vous dit qu'il y en a des trucs bizarres au menu!! Je recommende Singapour a tous ceux qui n'ont pas encore voyage en Asie. C'est une grande ville oui, mais les quartiers Chinatown et Little India donnent un bon apercu de ces pays sans les desagrements! Les gens sont tres gentils ici et la bouffe et les magasins sont authentiques.

Donc a notre arrivee le vendredi soir, on s'est depeche pour aller rejoindre Vincent dans un bar. Vincent s'est un gars que j'avais rencontre lors d'une conference au travail a San Diego. Il est quebecois, il terminait son doctorat au Scripps Institute (la ou je faisais mon post-doc) et il planifiait un post-doc a Singapour. Comme ca, on s'est echange nos e-mail et garde contact en vue de peut-etre se croiser a Singapour. Et la ca y est on est tous ensembles dans un bar a Singapour. C'est vraiment cool de rencontrer des gens que l'on 'connait' en pays etranger. Meme si j'avais rencontre Vincent qu'une seule fois, j'avais l'impression de visiter un ami de longue date. Et c'est toujours pratique d'avoir quelqu'un qui vous amenes dans les bons endroits. Le bar etait vraiment cool. Il y avait de la musique live. Un band d'asiatiques avec un chanteur indien, ca faisait drole!!! Ils faisaient les 'covers' rock/pop habituels, mais a ma grande surprise ils etaients vraiment bons. Le chanteur avait une tres belle voix. Bref, on s'est bien amuse, mais on a pas trop bu, les drinks sont 14$ chacun! Vincent nous a aussi invite chez-lui pour des sushis a la piscine de son complexe avec des amis le dimanche apres-midi. C'etait bon de faire des activites de la vie 'reguliere'...

A part ca, on est un peu tanne des activites touristiques. On sait qu'on va visiter plus de temples dans les prochains mois. Alors ici on se promene dans les rues, on fait notre jogging et du magasinages. On y va differemment pour apprendre la culture. On est alle au gym d'escalade, ou on a rencontre les grimpeurs locaux et on est alle souper avec eux. On est alle a une seance de yoga, wow la chance, il y avait un conge, tout le monde etait parti pour le week-end, on a donc eu une classe privee. On a beaucoup apris et corrige nos mouvements, ce qu'on a pas souvent la chance de faire en Amerique. On est aussi alle a une opera Cantonaise dans le Chinatown durant le festival des arts. Ouf, on ne comprenait evidemment rien du tout! Mais c'etait bien drole. La musique est bizarre, beaucoup trop de percussions, on dirait parfois un groupe de jeunes qui frappent de toutes leurs forces sur des poubelles en metal! Mais les melodies chinoises a la flute etaient belles. Les costumes sont tres beaux et les maquillages tres typiques asiatiques. On a aime l'experience, mais je dois avouer que lorsqu'ils ont arrete pour l'entracte apres 2h de spectacles... on s'est sauve!

Le 22 mai 2008: Australie 4 - De Sydney a Darwin

Arrives a Sydney, on va rester chez Aaron et Fiona, des amis de Pete et Annette. Le frere de Josh nous avait tout arrange ca! Alors Aaron vient nous chercher le soir a l'arret d'autobus (Josh avait une photo de leur mariage que son frere lui avait donne pour qu'on le reconnaisse dans la rue!). Il fait bon d'avoir encore un endroit ou rester pour 2 jours. On essaie de ne pas trop deranger, de toute facon ils travaillent et nous on passe la journee a marcher et a visiter. Sydney c'est tres beau. Il y a de tres grands parcs, les jardins botaniques et tout plein de personnes qui font leur jogging a toute heure de la journee. L'ocean entre partout dans la ville et j'ai l'impression que toutes les maisons sont au bord de l'eau. Par contre, c'est plus cher qu'a Melbourne. Bref, les deux jours on passe vite, le soir on a souper et celebrer avec Aaron et Fiona. On prenait le bus tres tot le matin, j'crois qu'on est partit et qu'on etait encore saouls de la veille!!

Notre premier long autobus. On a achete une passe Greyhound qui nous permet de reserver nos sieges a la derniere minute et d'arret ou l'on veut sur la cote est. Mais pour se rendre de Sydney a Cairns, meme avec des arrets, y'a quand meme plus de 3000km de route a faire. On fait donc un premier stop a Port-Macquarie. On voulait profiter des plages, mais il ne faisait pas tout a fait assez chaud encore. On doit aller plus au nord! On s'est quand meme baigne brievement, c'etait un peu froid, mes tres agreable, un bon changement apres l'hiver qui arrivait chez Pete et Annette. Mais malheureusement, durant cet arret a la plage, du sable a infiltre ma camera qui est maintenant brisee. Pas de chance pour les photos :( Mais juste avant, nous etions alles visiter un hopital de koalas, donc au moins on a quelques photos de ces charmants animaux. Ils sont tres difficile a apercevoir dans la nature, on a pas reussi a les trouver. Mais l'hopital, c'est un endroit ou des benevoles travaillent a guerir les koalas trouve malades ou blesses sur la rue. Ils laissent les touristes visiter et fonctionnent qu'avec les dons.

Apres ca on reprend le bus vers Brisbanne. Pas de temps pour visiter la ville. On arrive a 6h du matin et Lazar toujours fidele au poste nous attend a l'arret d'autobus! Qu'il fait bon de revoir un visage qu'on connait. Depuis qu'il nous avait laisse chez le frere de josh, Lazar etait ici pour faire de l'escalade. On va donc passer 5-6 jours avec lui a grimper a "Frog Buttress". Surprise, arrive au stationnement, Lazar n'a pas la Subaru. Il a emprunte la voiture d'une amie aussi venue le visiter pour venir nous chercher. La Subaru a encore lache la veille. Mais on ira avec lui pour essayer de la reparer. D'autres aventures nous attendent, avec Lazard et sa vieille Subaru, on ne sait jamais trop ce qui va arriver. Bref, cette fois-ci c'etait le radiateur qui chauffait. Une fois arrive au camping, il n'y avait pas un chat. S'en etait epeurant. Lazar dit que lui meme s'inquite parfois, surtout lorsqu'il va en ville et que les gens lui demandent ou il habite, sans reflechir il repond au camping, puis il realise qu'il vient de leur dire qu'il habite tout seul dans ce coin perdu de la montagne. Hahaha, on rit, mais moi j'exige que Josh viennent avec moi jusqu'au toilette le soir! Surtout depuis qu'Annette nous a fait ecouter ce film d'horreur Australien "Wolf Creek" base sur des histoires vraies de tueurs dans les "outback" i.e. les coins perdus, c'est grand l'Australie, y'en a beaucoup des coins perdus quand on fait du camping! Bref, on s'est bien amuse, avec Lazar on rit beaucoup, il a pleut souvent, mais on a quand meme fait de l'escalade presqu'a tous les jours. Juste assez pour tranquillement reprendre la forme...

Puis une autre nuit dans l'autobus. On fait nos voyage de nuit, ca passe plus vite et on sauve de l'argent sur les hotels de jeunesses. Prochain arret: Airlie Beach. Ca c'est tout une place de party pour les jeunes au bord de la plage. Mais nous comme on s'en vient vieux, on va se coucher de bonne heure! On a reserve notre bateau pour le lendemain matin. On a decider de ne pas aller a Fiji, les billets d'avion etaient plus cher qu'on croyait, mais la en revanche on se paye la traite. Les vacances des vacances. Soit trois jours sur un voilier a se promener dans les iles "Whitsundays" et a faire de la plongee. Wow, on a pas vecu dans tant de luxe depuis longtemps. La premiere journee, la formule 'voyage tout organise' m'enervait un peu, mais en bout de ligne, c'etait tellement reposant de ne pas avoir a penser a quoi que ce soit pendant 3 jours. On est loge et nourrit sur le bateau (la bouffe etait bonne, pas excellente, mais tres bonne, ce qui est rare ici en Australie, ils sont plutot fort sur les "fish and chips"!). On est alle a la plage "Whiteheaven" d'ou le nom, wow, la plus grande et la plus belle plage de sable blanc que j'ai vu dans ma vie. Puis on a passe nos journees a plonger et a faire du "snorkelling" parmi les poissons tropicaux et les coraux de toutes les couleurs. En Thailande les poissons etaient vraiment beaux, mais ici c'est vrai qu'ils ont de plus beaux coraux, i.e. plus colores. Sur le bateau il y avait 14 autres personnes avec nous. Tous des gens avec qui on s'entendait tres bien. Y'avait meme 3 Francais. Ah que j'etais contente de pouvoir parler en francais meme s'ils avaient leur accent de la France!! Bref, 3 jours de reves...

Mais ce n'est pas fini. On se rend ensuite a Cairns et a Port-Douglas pour faire encore plus de plongee au "Great Barrier Reef". (Bon, prononcer ca en anglais ce n'est pas facile. Pete et Annette riaient tellement de mon accent, que juste avant qu'on les quittes ils m'ont enregistree, hihi. ) Encore la, une journee a la plage et au parc a Port-Douglas, une petite ville riche ou les vedettes hollywoodiennes vont en vacances, et une journee de plongee. On s'en vient tres bons dans l'identification de poissons tropicaux! Puis on a pris un tour guide (bien oui, on commence a aimer la formule "ne pas se casser la tete"!) vers Cape Tribulation. La on a visite une ferme de crocodiles, on s'est promene dans la jungle, et on a vu des crocodiles sauvages lors d'une mini-croisiere sur la riviere. En Australie c'est fou, ils ont presque tous les animaux dangereux: les crocodiles dans le nord (on ne peut vraiment pas se baigner partout ici), les requins blancs dans le sud, deux sortes de "jelly-fish" qui peuvent causer la mort, deux sortes d'arraignes qui peuvent aussi tuer, les serpents, etc. On a appris tout plein de truc lors de ce voyage, comme ne pas laisser ses souliers en dehors de la tente. Mais heureusement rien ne nous ait arrive!

Dernier arret en Australie. On passe par Darwin. Cette fois-ci on prend l'avion. Ca faisait un bon bout de temps, deux mois et demi deja qu'on a pas vole! Cette fois-ce on a loue une voiture pour 3 jours. Voila, on se sent comme en Nouvelle-Zelande. Deux nuits de plus a dormir dans l'auto! On est alle directment on parc national "Litchfield". On a tellement aime ca, qu'on y est reste les deux jours. On a vu des nids de termites mesurant jusqu'a 6 metres de haut. J'peux pas croire que ces petites bibites peuvent construire de tel edifices en utilisant leur selles! Mais ce qui etaient magnifiques ce sont les chutes et les bassins d'eau dans lesquels on pouvait se baigner. On en a profiter au max. Enfin l'ete!! La troisieme journee on est retourne a Darwin, j'avais besoin d'une nouvelle coupe de cheveux avant de retourner en Asie et on avait un peu de magasinage a faire avant de se rendre a l'aeroport. C'est termine pour l'Australie, c'est maintenant le sud-est de l'Asie qui nous attend pour le reste du voyage. Fini les kangorous (est ce que je vous ai dit qu'on la cuisine a toutes les sauces? Spaghetti, Burrito, hamburgers, steak, filet, etc. hmmmm delicieuse viande sans gras!), le riz blanc nous attend. C'est le bon cote, chaque fois qu'on quitte un endroit, on est content d'aller a la prochaine destination...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Australia 5: Back on the Road - East Coast

Pete was kind enough to drop us off in Canberra where we picked up the Greyhound to Sydney. He even lined up a place for us to stay with his friends Aaron and Fiona! We stayed just across the bay from the Sydney Opera house and spent 2 days wandering around on foot. We saw the opera house, the bridge, the botanical gardens. All were beautiful, especially the gardens next to the opera house. They sprawl for miles and have amazing views. One of the interesting things in the garden are the "grey headed flying foxes" (fruit bats). There are thousands. It was a nice city, but we didn't spend much time there since we had promised Lazar we would meet him up north in a few days.

We caught another Greyhound bus (we probably Greyhounded for close to 4,000km and spent many nights trying to sleep on red eye buses since it was cheaper than paying for a hostel at night) and headed to Port Macquarie. There, we visited a koala hospital and saw many of the furry little guys. We hit the beach and went swimming in the ocean for the first time in a while. As we headed north it was becoming noticably warmer despite winter getting closer in the southern hemisphere. The most depressing thing about stopping in Port Macquarie is that this is where Nath's camera stopped working. That's right folks... no more cameras for us! :( We tried to get it fixed, but it was not only too expensive but a logistical nightmare. At least we didn't lose the pictures this time (not that we've uploaded them yet since the camera was broken).

Next Greyhound stop was Brisbane! Lazar picked us up at the bus station, miraculously finding us on the 4th or 5th floor of the enormous building, and we headed to the car. As we walked to the car, I noticed his wasn't in the parking lot in front of us. I still laugh at when I asked what happened and he just calmly replied, "There have been events." Apparently, his car overheated, blew a hose, and lost any power uphill. Luckily, he had met a fellow climber at Frog Buttress where we were headed and she had let him borrow her car for a few hours to pick us up! Yeah climbing community! We arrived at Frog Buttress, set up camp quickly, and headed out to bag a few routes. We were both rusty with all the time taken off from climbing. The next week was spent climbing dreamy splitter cracks, and heading into town for food, swimming laps on rest days, and attempting to repair the car. The car was repaired for a reasonable amount of money. The busted hose was replaced and some liquid to stop radiator leaks was applied and all seemed to be running better. Lazar and Nath were both leading well, and Nath managed to onsight another 22! It was a beautiful 35-40m crack in a corner that required much stemming and technique. I worked on onsighting the 23s, and on my last day redpointed a beautiful 24 that was supposed to be the best route there. I would have tried climbing harder, but the harder routes were unimaginably thin. In route descriptions there would be mentions of 6 black aliens and 2 blue. Lazar had climbed with people with ballnuts, etc. Well, I just didn't have enough of that size gear. For the 24 I had just enough small cams with Lazar and my rack combined and it was still scary squeezing 00 TCUs into flares, or two lobes of a cam since that was as deep as it went. Luckily, the climbing was relatively secure (but hard) until the top where the gear got a little better and the route harder. Anyways, we had fun, got rained on (which was the theme of our climbing in mainland Australia), played darts in the campground, and hit the bar when it was too cold at night. Nath and I were both sad when Lazar dropped us off at the bus station. He is a great guy, really positive, super funny, and we both hope to see him again. Lazar, if you read this, you really should come to the states to do a bigwall! ;)

Another Greyhound bus brought us to the famous Airlie Beach, the adventure center for the famous Whitsunday islands. They are a group of islands out near the Great Barrier Reef that are just beautiful. Nath bought one of those disposable cameras that can go underwater, we booked a 3 day 2 night trip on a sailboat and we headed out! We visited the astounding Whitehaven Beach, probably one of the most beautiful beaches on earth. Our tour guide told us that the sand was so pure, it was what the lens of the Hubble Telescope was made out of. We slept and went scuba diving near Turtle Island, but the visibility wasn't too good (quite horrible actually). However, next we headed out to the Great Barrier Reef for our first time! Nath and I went scuba diving and snorkeled. The water was amazingly clear. The coral created enormous reefs that rose up out of the ocean for a few hours since we were there for an abnormally low lowtide. This protected us from waves, and we spent the night sleeping well far out in the ocean surrounded by the GBR. We woke the next day to more snorkeling before the long trip home. Unfortunately, although we were on a sailboat, the winds were low and we were under motor almost the entire time. We did get about an hour of sailing on the way home when the winds picked up which was great. We would have been more disappointed by the small amout of sailing, but lower winds mean better visibility in the water so we were glad to have an excellent opportunity to see the reef and it's beauty!

We returned to Airlie Beach with enough time to grab food, some new used books, and jump another overnight Greyhound to Cairns. Cairns is the main place to go the GBR. The GBR is closer to the land up north, and the water is warmer. We only stayed one night in Cairns before heading north to Port Douglas. We heard that although it was more expensive, the reef was even closer and the the diving better since fewer people were impacting the reef up there. We spent another day scuba diving and snorkelling on a day boat trip and that was awesome. I saw a cuttlefish (like a squid), a black tip reef shark, and we found a giant clam that lived up to it's name! We spent another day doing a tour of Cape Tribulationon which we saw giant salt water crocodiles in a zoo-like setting and in the wild. Also, we walked in the jungle learning what to avoid in Malaysia on Tioman island (more on that in a later post).

By the way, Australia is teeming with stuff that will kill you. Maybe that's why there are so few people per square mile? There are two types of spiders with fatal bites, many poisonous snakes (some are the most poisonous on earth), salt water crocodiles which make any waterway salt or fresh a potential hazard since they can and will eat people if given the opportunity, in the north the box jellyfish and the irukandji jellyfish will make you want to die if they don't kill you, and the great white shark patrols southern Australia. Even the freaking platypus is poisonous! No, I'm not joking, look it up...

After Cairns, a short flight brought us to Darwin. At this point we were back in high temperature/humidity, it was preparing us for SE Asia again. We rented a car and headed south to Litchfield National Park where there are beautiful waterfalls and rivers to swim in, as well as the bizarre termite mounds. The termites build these enormous mounds over 6m in height that are engineering marvels keeping the dry from the wet season and controlling the temperature by orienting them along the N-S axis. Quite fascinating to see and read about the little guys. There are soldiers that spit acid from funnel shaped mouths. We saw them while they were doing some outside repairs! We spent two days in Lichfield since the swimming was so nice, and I managed to tear it up in one of the pools doing many deep water soloing routes. It was awesome, and wet/barefoot I'd say some of the routes were up near the 12a range. I was really pushing my limits and loving it. Some of the lines were probably first ascents, but who knows. Seems like most accessible stuff has been climbed these days....

When we got back to Darwin, we took care of some odds and ends like getting the photos processed from the disposable camera. They were of expected quality, unfortunately. Don't buy those things, ever! When all was ready, we headed to the airport. We were off to Singapore, back to SE Asia!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Australia 4: Hanging with my Brother!

For those of you who don't know, my brother, Pete, lives in Jindabyne, NSW, Australia. He married Annette, an Australian, and moved there years ago. Nath, Lazar, and I arrived in Jindabyne late in the night, but Pete was still up waiting and met us at a gas station to show us the way to his place. He lives in a rather rural area outside of Jindabyne on about 16 acres of property. The road to his place was crawling with native animals, and I managed to see my first and last wombats of the trip on the way to his place. However, they were all running away, and all I really saw were fuzzy butts disappearing into the darkness. Pete says they're built like tanks and if you hit one of the little guys they can knock the wheel off your car! We arrived late, Pete showed us our room, we talked a little, and he let Lazar crash for the night. I went to sleep excited about the next two weeks, my first opportunity to spend time with my brother in about 6-7 years!

We did many great things while in Jindabyne. We hiked local hills and rivers, explored a cave, jumped in hot springs, tried local liquors, saw a band and a comedian, and drank a lot. One day, we even went on a hard core mountaineering trip through the snow and ice up Australia's tallest mountain, Mt. Kosciuszko! Actually, it was more like a day hike up a road with patches of snow/ice a few inches thick to the modest height of 2228 meters/7310'. Pete introduced me to Top Gear, and English car show that is absolutely hilarious, and he showed me quite a bit about building as we worked on his house and property. I now know the basics of welding and thus my running shoes have a hole in the toe. :)

One of the really enjoyable things that Nath and I did was help Pete work around the house. Pete is a carpenter by trade now, and designed and built much of his beautiful house. It is a two story home on 16 acres of slowly rolling hills. He has a truly massive window (around 8m x 8m?) that overlooks the countryside. Annette has a horse, and was in the process of buying a 2nd while we were there. The two major projects we helped Pete with were nearly completing the new deck with a sunk fire pit that he had designed and was working on, and we helped him clear his land of many non-native willow trees that "land care" had killed last year. The deck was beautiful and the fire pit was perfect. Pete threw a party and we all hung out by the fire getting drunk on good alcohol until the wee hours of the morning. Clearing the trees was fun because we had to haul huge sections that fell into the creek with a chain attached to the 4-runner. Even better, we had to burn the piles that we created! Our dad taught us all about how to burn stuff as we grew up and its definitely something that I've been missing while living in San Diego!

I really enjoyed living in the country for a few weeks, and it was a truly needed relief from all our travel. Travel is hard. It sounds all fun and amusing, but stress is often high and logistics are a nightmare. At Pete's, I was waking up and taking his dog Diesel out most mornings around sunrise on a 30+ minute walk through neighboring sheep pastures. At sunset some nights we'd try to go see the platypus that live near Pete's place. While we were working on the house, it was low stress since it was fun to help Pete and it really felt more like hanging out. The whole experience was just relaxing and very rejuvenating.

The best was just talking while we did all of these things. I learned a lot about my brother that I didn't know, and got to know Annette better. I'm writing this in July, halfway through the trip. Nath and I have been to Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia. We've had amazing adventures and climbed spectacular things. We've scuba dived in unimaginable beauty and seen bizarre and captivating wildlife. However, the best part of this trip so far has been staying in the little town if Jindabyne and reconnecting with Pete after so long. I'm already looking forward to going back!

Thanks for a great time Pete and Annette!