On my flight back to North America flying from Zurich to New York City we passed over PEI at which time I had come to realize that I had made a full circuit of the globe on this journey. I thought that was kind of neet (not something I get to do everyday and not something I thought I would be doing this trip). I do much rather westward travel so I am very glad how it worked out for me to make it back in this fashion (the whole jet leg time zone thing treats me better heading west). So after 13 hours of flights from Moscow to Zurich to NYC I got to kick back and relax in the city for the afternoon and evening. I can't say I did anything super special. Visited Time Sq of course then Rockefeller Centre to see the big Christmas tree. I tried to find Gimbles, but was unable to do so unfortunately. Then went back to the hostel in Brooklyn to spend the night and catch up on some sleep (had to wake up at 3:00 am to catch my flight plus 9 more time zones crossed). I arrived in Nashville late morning yesterday (Wednesday) where my parents picked me up and I am now back at Shira and Bobby's new place in Knoxville. To rap it up - It has been a great trip - Sad it is over - But glad to be "home". Merry Christmas to one and all.
Wow, Moscow is a really amazing city. I only wish I had more time to explore it. Walking through the arches into the Red Square. Looking at Lenin's mausoleum then the Kremlin just behind. Walking by the ever colourful St. Basil's Cathedral. To cap it all off the architecture all over the city is wonderful. I do have to say the Metro was incredibly confusing at first since it is all in Russian, but I think I am starting to get the hang of it. I am off since I want to make the most of my time while I have it here in Moscow. (The train ride went great- but stories of that will wait for another day)
It's official. I can happily say that I received both my Russian and Mongolian Visas without any major issues. This means that in the morning I board the T3 train here in Beijing for a 6 day journey through Mongolia then across Siberia till I reach Moscow - The Trans-Mongolian then Trans-Siberian Railway - (just over 127 hours on the train). I'm excited to be moving again after having a wonderful time to really get well acquainted with the booming city of Beijing. Until Moscow...
It has been great to be in Beijing for a number of days to meander around at a gentle pace. I had the opportunity to see the Great Wall yesterday which was very interesting. (There is a bit of a longer story about the tour since they took us to spend more time at jade shops than at the actual Wall). Then today I tried to find the Beijing Baptist Church, but since I did not take the building name in Mandarin the taxi driver did not know where I wanted to go therefore we simply drove around for over a half hour looking without seeing. To say the least I was very disappointed when it did not work out. I was looking forward to going to a Baptist church in communist China (the only official Baptist church in Beijing). I have two more days in Beijing to work out two more visas, if this goes smoothly I will be off again for my last week long journey before the long flights back to North America.
I have to say I spoke way too soon saying that the road was sealed all the way to Lhasa. The majority of today's travel was again on some extremely rough moonscape like terrain. It was of course incredibly scenic. Following the rough "road" we came to the highest pass we had to cross on the journey at well over 5000m then quickly down into the valley to find Lhasa. Lhasa is a part modern - part historic city (thank the Chinese for the modern portions of the city). The heart of the city Potala Palace which is the historic winter residence of the Dalai Lamas (until the Chinese took control of power and the Dalai Lama has been exiled in India). It is an incredible palace (as you can see by the photos). I have to say that I am sad that I have to move on from Lhasa and Tibet tomorrow evening.
After many long, grueling, however beautiful hours on the road I have finally made it from Nepal to well inside of Tibet. The cultural experience of this journey has been wonderful. The locals are as curious of us foreigners as we are of them. I went out to eat last night at a small local restaurant in which they spoke no English which was a truly authentic experience as the few locals that where there gave me their full attention. The man across from me in his traditional Tibetan dress seemed to think that it was funny that I had such white hands that had hair on them. As I was waiting for my fried rice and tea I started to journal and they all were looking over my shoulder trying to make out every word (without any success I am assuming or they would have had to start laughing). While I am talking about food, authentic Chinese really is not anything to be greatly desired. Today we only had a few hours of driving then got to explore a large monastery complex with many monks walking around in their garb waving at us and trying to say hello (then go off giggling). It is starting to get dark out so I better try to find my way back to the hotel (I took so many side streets trying to find an Internet cafe I can't say exactly where I am at the moment).
Early tomorrow morning (Saturday) I start on my overland journey through the Himalayas to Tibet. It is suppose to take about a week to get to Lhasa ("The Forbidden City"). From people I have talked to it sounds like it will be a very interesting journey.
The Himalayas are an incredibly beautiful and rugged mountain range. After a slow start (from waiting in the Kathmandu domestic airport for two and a half days for the weather to clear) for a trek that already was pushed for time somehow me and my Sherpa made it to the desired destination (thankfully and unbelievably without succumbing to altitude sickness). The view we received of Everest (and even more so the other mountains that surround) were worth every moment of the strenuous trek. Most people take in the area of 10-12 days to do the hike we did in less than 6. One of the main reasons for people taking longer is because of the major elevation change. Gokyo Ri is at an elevation of 5360m with means it has half the oxygen in the air as at sea level. Which when hiking can be tough on the body and most people become quite ill if they push too hard before they become acclimatized to these altitudes. Watching the sunset over Everest from Gokyo Ri was truly an incredible experience (then getting back to Gokyo in the dark was interesting also, however in a different way). I only wish I could have had more time to explore a few other trails that would be of interest.
Kathmandu is such a cool town. I arrived yesterday afternoon (Monday) on a direct flight from Bangkok. How I got on that flight I have no idea since I had been trying to get on it for a while. I just called the ticket office at 2 am and they got me on (They made it sound like it was the last seat on the flight and it only just opened up due to a cancellation - I believe them since the flight was totally packed). The streets around Kathmandu are just tiny, but totally bustling with the many locals and travelers alike. Every shop seems to sell The North Face and Mountain Hard Ware stuff (imitation of course). I have picked up a number of articles of clothing in an attempt to get suited for my EBC (Everest Base Camp) trek that I hope to start in the morning (if the weather holds up for my flight into the hills). It should be interesting especially since I do not have the recommend amount of time to do it in so it will all come down to how quickly I can get acclimatized to the elevation jump. I have to say I am excited. Hopefully my porter does not get too upset if I want to go a bit faster than most of his usual clients.
It was fun to explore Singapore today. I started off early trying to get proficient with the Metro and headed for the airport to try to get a flight to Nepal. That however proved to be somewhat unsuccessful (only was able to get a cheap flight to Bangkok for that evening). I went back toward town and stopped off at the Expo which had some good book and food sales on, but even more interesting there was a very large Baptist church that I found. Unfortunately I arrived just as the masses were leaving. It was still good to see (I have not seen too many Protestant churches around). From there I rushed to visit the OM ship the "Doulos". While there I got to visit with Emile (she lived with the Newsons a few years back). However because I had a flight booked for the evening I did not get to spend much time on the ship. I was very surprised at the size of the "Doulos". It is quite the large ship. I had to rush back to the airport and thankfully made it with lots of time (10 minutes before they closed the gate). Here I now am back in Bangkok on Khao San Road trying to make my way to Nepal.
I had to finally move on from Koh Tao after a number of excellent dives. I did a bit of Island hopping today then bussed to Phuket where I am now online. Plan on checking out a few beaches in the morning (basically take it easy) then catch a boat early afternoon for Koh Phi Phi then possibly onto Krabi. Not planning on staying long here because there are way too many two week tourists (So often I want to stand up and tell them to take a chill pill - lame I know- when they start to go off on some poor Thai person. They just don't seem to realize they are not in the west anymore and have to go by Thai schedules and Thai rules... That's all I will say about that)
After a long day of travel yesterday (moto, bus, bus, boarder, bus, taxi, overnight train, minivan, boat, walk, pickup) I finally arrived in Koh Tao, Thailand this morning. I am going to chill on this wonderful little Island for a few days to get my diving certificate (PADI) and hopefully get a few great dives over the time I am going to spend here. Over these days I am going to have to try to plan the remainder of my trip whether I will be a beach bum around Indonesia (and possibly the Philippines) or hit up a flight to Nepal in the Himalayas and do some real trekking (Annapurna circuit and Everest base camp). Right now I am leaning toward going to Nepal, however with heading to the Himalayas there are a lot of logistics that will have to be work out (Visas, flights, trekking permits and tourist permits if I want to cross into Tibet).
"Welcome to the Kingdom of Cambodia" the English sign read as I crossed the border from Vietnam. Despite needing to get my visa work done on the boarder it was thankfully a rather painless experience. Even coming from Vietnam (which in itself is a poor country with many people working for about $50 a month) it is easy to tell that Cambodia is an extremely poor country even to Southeast Asia standards. On the bus ride to the capital many kids come running aggressively after the bus and knocking on the windows trying to get some food or money from the passengers. Today I hired a moto driver for half the day for $5. I have to say I almost felt bad when I was handing him the money since I knew a couple dollars of that would go to the gas then some to pay for the bike. He might have made $1 to $1.50 off the deal, which to them somehow seems to be a good days wage. Cambodia is steeped in ancient history with Angkor Wat which I am excited to be checking out over the next couple days.Unfortunately Cambodia is also known for some of their not so ancient history with the genocide that happened here less than 30 years ago. It was very sobering to visit one of the many killing fields were many innocent families were beaten then killed. Today a stuppa has been erected in the place to remind people of the past so that these atrocities may never happen again in this place.
I finally had enough of the problems that my old camera were giving me so I spent an afternoon in Saigon camera hunting. In the end I did not upgrade as much as I may have hoped, but the price I got for the new camera was unbeatable so I had to go for it. In Malaysia I may look for a bit better of a camera even though I have been very happy with this new one. Canon IXUS 50 = European version of the powershot SD400. (The good 'ol days with my Canon Powershot A520)
Am in a bit of a Rush, but have been in Vietnam for the past few days. It has been an incredibly beautiful spot. There has been a threat of a typhoon hit, but the latest news is that it may head North for China which would be good for me since it was suppose to hit central Vietnam. This would have cut me off from the South for a few days very possibly. Just got back from a 3 day tour of Ha long Bay and Cat Ba Island, which was very interesting. We toured around on a junk and even slept on it the first night. Starting to head south so I'm out of hear. (will load pictures when possible).
It looks like I will be moving on from Laos this evening. I was planning on spending the night here in Vientiane, but found out the bus I want to catch to Vietnam only heads out in the evenings so instead of waiting till tomorrow evenging I think I will catch it tonight. The last few days have been very relaxing. Taking it easy in Luang Prabang then moving onto the laid back village of Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is a wonderful little town sitting on the Nam Song river with a beautiful backdrop of impressive limestone cliffs. I spend a couple days exploring the caves in the area along with tubing down the Nam Song then eating a lot of great food. I'm currently relaxing in Vientiane after exploring the downtown district of the city.
Currently working my way through the beautiful country of Laos. Upon entering the country I quickly started a two day slow boat journey down the Mekong River which was an interesting experience (and one that I do not want to repeat any time soon). The scenery along the way was wonderful, but the tight conditions and the hard wooden seats made the two days on the river almost unbearable at times. Right now I am trying to rest in Luang Prabang to recuperate from the journey, before I keep moving South. Luang Prabang happens to be a great old French colonial town on the banks of the Mekong as well so it is very picturesque. I almost forgot to mention the markets and the stores sell rip offs of almost everything (such as I am sure everyone knows). If you want 5 season of 24 I could get the pack of them for about $40. Any movie imaginable for about $2. Jack Wolfskin or The North Face packs starting at $10. Birkenstocks starting at $2. You name it they will copy it. Some is legit stuff, but it costs a bit more (however still much less than back home). Laos food has been enjoyable. Being an old French colony there is a lot more baguettes and sandwiches around which is a nice change from fried rice, steamed rice or sticky rice.
The Whitewater rafting trip through the remote jungle was a blast. I have done tougher rapids before, but the whole atmosphere was great. Somehow everyone (even the guide) fell out of the raft throughout the rapids, but somehow I managed to stay in for the whole journey. I really enjoyed the jungle lodge (lodge might be a bit generous- more like huts) that we camped at for the night. There were monkeys the ran around making trouble, I tried to catch some catfish, a quick trek to a waterfall not far from the camp, then after dark the guide and two other guys that were working at the lodge took me out on a hunt for small creatures (only caught frogs, but were looking for snakes) that was kind of crazy as I only had a small pen light and they had these big lights and went running off into the jungle so after a while I was all by myself in the absolutely dark jungle (thankfully they did come back for me after a few minutes). I did want to go for an elephant trek tomorrow, but there is some special celebration the are needed for so I am going to move on to Chaing Mai and then on to Laos shortly after that.
After my initial shock of Bangkok (I'm not a big city fan) I have been trying to take the road a bit less traveled (at least I am trying to stay out of the big city centers). This has taken me to Khoa Yai National Park for a couple days of trekking, then on to Sukhathai to explore some ancient ruins and now to Pai in the far Northwest of Thailand where I will be starting a two day whitewater rafting trip in the morning. It currently doesn't seem like I can upload photos, but I will keep trying.
It's been a very, very long day, but I have finally made it to Asia. So I'm excited. If my calculations are correct I traveled 14 time zones to make it here, but I am here. Initial thoughts are of crowds of people and lots of good cheap food. The place I am staying at tonight isn't much to look at, but seems to be a good fairly clean spot with lots of travelers. I'm off for some shut eye.
The island of Hawaii (known as the "Big Island") was quite interesting. Some highlights were the lava flows (how cool is it to walk on and feel the heat of molten lava. It actually melted the soles of my shoes); Swiming along when a school of about 40 dolphins appears out of the deep blue (thought they were sharks initially); along with lots of time swimming with the ever graceful turtles (found one spot away from the tourists that I counted over 20). Overall I put well over 500 miles on my rental while on the Big Island, but it was well worth it.
Maui has really been a fun spot to tour around for the past couple days. The Coastal roads are stunning with all the pristine beaches and jagged volcanic cliffs. Maui really does not have much for public transportation so I had to rent a car to get around which made it that much more fun. Everyone who has driven around Maui knows how much fun it can be driving around along the coast with all the one way roads that host two way traffic. Once I have the capability to upload pictures I will show a few spot I really enjoyed.
The time has come to step back out on the road to the unknown. Currently I know that I will be flying in to Hawaii in the morning then off to Thailand not too long after. It should be a good time of lite adventures once again.
Andrew and I went off to Banff National Park yesterday for an increadible day of hiking and sightseeing. Temple Mountain was our destination of the day which was a bit more of a challenge than expected due to the healthy layer of snow that came down the day before. (Me at Moraine Lake. The top of Temple Mountain. Andrew at the top of his first 11,000 foot plus mountain.)
Now that my season is almost over I should start actually putting some effort into my plans for the Fall. I could always plant for another month or two on the coast which would be interesting, but not nearly as much as Asia is going to be. Now I just need to pick dates and find a flight to some random city on the Asian continent and see what happens.
As the season is nearing the end I have to say that it's great to be doing a hotel show (staying in town at a hotel vs. my tent in a bush camp). The contract has been nice in that I have been getting a few days off to relax mixed in with a few good planting days.
I have to say that I am already excited about the fall and all that I hope to encompass during that time. I don't have great big plans, but I am starting to piece together ideas of things and places that I would like to visit while overseas. Currently I am looking at about 8 more days of planting then I will put away my shovel and planting bags for another season. Jon skiing on the lake.
Another season at LSFS (Little Smokey Forestry Services) is over.... but my season is not quite over yet. I was able to get onto another contract till close to the end of the month with NGR. I have to say I am happy to get more work, but I doubt I would have been disappointed if I had not. A few pictures from earlier on in the season that I was recently given. Darren, Me, Mark and Tyson in the back posing for a picture on an unknown disposable camera we found in a truck (Darren and Mark are the supervisors). Me taking a plunge off the bridge onto my air mattress (I have to say my air mattress was never the same).
Another season is already melting away into distant memories here at Little Smokey. It looks like we will finish off all the remaining trees in the next few days, spend a day at the lake on the motor boat then all head our separate ways for the winter (actually for the rest of the summer, fall and winter). Not sure what my plans are yet for the next few weeks. I may try to pickup another contract or perhaps just decide I did well enough so I could be done work for the year.... Pictures of our crew. Trying not to get lost after the heli dropped us off in the vast woods.
The Season continues to roll along for me here in Northern Alberta. I just came off of a few great shifts. I was able to smash my old personal best tree record for a day (which I thought would never happen). The weather has been wonderful (a bit warm today - record high of 33 in Grande Prairie). The sunsets from our mountain top campsite have been phenomenal as of late (despite the brisk mornings). Overall things are going great. It currently looks like mid August will be my finish date, but who honestly ever knows. I hope everybody's summers are going great.
The season is cruising along as usual. Lots of work, lots of fun and lots of trees planted (of course). This is me in some fill plant we were working on today (Tuesday). Can be nasty, but like the treeplanter's saying goes "there is no such thing as bad land, just bad prices." Thankfully the prices have been very good for the land we have been working on! (A typical fill block)
After a couple weeks of work close to Grande Prairie we are finally heading back to the bush for the remainder of the summer (so don't expect any updates in the near future). Currently sitting in Grande Cache refuelling the vehicles before we head out on the trunk road to camp (only another 45 minutes from here). Have a great summer!
One of the major highlights of my Latin American travels was my trip to Angel Falls. As most of you know I dropped my camera in the river about 2 hours before arriving at the falls so I was unable to get any of my own pictures unfortunately. However, one of the other guys that I was there with took a number of pictures before his batteries ran out and has recently emailed me a few of the photos from the falls including this one. I still vividly remember climbing up close to the base of the falls and going for a swim with the cool mist from the falls cascading down. What an incredible spot!
Back to the classic cut blocks in Alberta. This block had some slash (the non-harvested trees and branches still laying around) along with a few poorly spaced mounds (random piles of dirt randomly piled up by an excavator) in the wet areas. The taxi we use to get to most blocks.
Treeplanting on the coal mines just outside the boundaries of Jasper National Park always seem to produce an eventful experience. This is normally due to the extreme weather along with the more than abundant wildlife making for interesting days (one of the hundreds of Big Horn Sheep that live on the reclaimed strip mines that eat the pine trees we plant a quickly as we can plant them). Since we were planting at such high elevations on these mines any precipitation we received always turned into snow which we often had to simply plant through. Every year we seem to have at least one big snow storm along with always seeing a number of Grizzlies (normally from the "safety" of a vehicle), but this year I had quite a close encounter while I was out planting, a mother and cub decided to give me a little visit. Tomorrow is a full day off in town which is needed for some major gear repairs and replacements.
Planting is in full swing again. I just finished my first contract today and am currently heading to GP from Cadomin (currently using some random persons wireless access). Oh we are heading, loosing connection later.