December, 2009

Dec 09

The adventures of uncle Paul’s backpack

My uncle Paul died nearly 4 years ago. He was a wonderful man in so many ways. As a priest he was a man of God, but also a man of the mountains, a lover of the outdoors with a hunger for all things vertical. My bond with him changed as I too became addicted to high places. A mutual understanding. I wish he’d stayed around longer so we could have shared some more time together in the mountains.

When he died I became the new owner of a number of his pieces of mountain equipment, including his big sturdy backpack. It is with this that I have been travelling, trekking and camping in the Patagonian Andes since we arrived in mid December. It makes me smile to think that somehow Paul knows this and is pleased…

For the past 9 days, Uncle Paul’s bag has been exploring the mountains near Pucon, Chile. The strange volcanic landscapes with expansive old lava flows frozen in time, the huge snowy volcanoes and snow-filled gullies, and wonderful forests of giant, comical Monkey Puzzle trees perched high in the sharp winds. Paul’s bag has been soaked in Patagonian rain and warmed by it’s bright sun, almost in equal measures. It has doubled as a seat during mountain side lunch breaks, and as a foot rest on cold nights in the tent. Right now it is sitting nice and cozily by the radiator in our hostel in Bariloche (Argentina) where we recently arrived. The luxury of indoors.

Tomorrow we are bringing Paul’s bag on a new adventure in the beautiful mountains near Bariloche. Hopefully for 4 days trekking and camping, before we treat it to the luxury of a warm room again…

Dec 09

Merry Christmas

Just a quick note to say Merry Christmas to everyone. We’re here in Pucón Chile after finishing our first three day trek. We’ll be sharing Christmas dinner with the young Chilean family that runs the hostel we’re staying in. Have a great time wherever you may be. Tanti Baci!

Check out a few photos from the evening

Dec 09

Con vino por favor

I am in love with the Argentinian people.

To grossly and perhaps prematurely generalise, they seem to me like a warm and welcoming people, with a strong appreciation of the importance of family and good food. Values which are close to our hearts. Although an impressively large consumption of meat perhaps leads to a somewhat skewed daily food pyramid. As someone with such a soft spot for Italy and Italians I can’t help but notice the similarities between Argentinians and some of their ancestors across the ocean. Italy is obviously not the only influence here from abroad, as Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, seems to have long been home to immigrants from throughout Europe.

Following a wonderful 3 days spent with the family of an old climbing friend of mine (Maria) in Buenos Aires, we found ourselves enjoying more Argentinian hospitality in the wine region of Mendoza. After a rocky start involving the wrong bus, a long walk in the heat and a lift from the local policeman in the back of his van, we reached the wineries area. Perched on a tandem bike we made our way from one winery to another where we were greeted with warm smiles (and wine). Jeff was visibly delighted with the prospect of leisurely tasting all those delicious wines with the vines in sight. Like the cat that got the cream, as they say back home.

As all who have shared a bottle of wine with me will know- I am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. Yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that cycling a tandem bike actually gets easier after a glass or two…





Dec 09


“Okay, slowly now. In. Out. In. Out…

Oh my God there’s a sea turtle! Wow…so cute! Okay relax again… You’re breathing too fast. In. Out. ..”
And the inner dialogue continues, along with the rhythmical ‘woosh’ of the regulator as I breath in and out. Darth Vader eat your heart out.

Breathing underwater is a surreal experience. So unnatural feeling at first that I have to concentrate hard not to hold my breathe. It’s worth it though for the magical sensation of floating just above the sea bed, with multicoloured coral below and expansive blue water above. The countless creatures of all colours,shapes and sizes going about their daily business around you. Some of them stare at me as I stare back. Me wondering what their strange appendages are for, and them probably wondering who this bizarre awkward creature is laden down with tubes and tank.

Learning to do something so completely new is such a refreshing experience. Like a child with the whole world to discover and explore.
It makes me hungry for more 🙂

Dec 09


Sorry for the long gap everyone. We’d like to pin it on the hectic holidays…but, alas, we do not have those down here.

The reason for this post is to apologize, as I have just done, and to say that we’re going to publish a bunch of posts at once that we’ve been meaning to put up for some time.

We hope you will forgive us. Oh and Merry Christmas to everyone!

Dec 09

On tailors

One of the things that many male westerners do when they visit Bangkok is to get a suit made (I bet you thought I was going to say something about the prostitutes, don’t lie, it’s what you thought isn’t it). Given both the fact that I am bereft of even one good suit and the difficulty in finding anything small enough in the States, I planned to do the same.

Before we arrived I spent quite a lot of time in reading reviews on Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet’s travel forum) trying to find a tailor that was reputable and not super expensive – which is a hell of a lot harder than one would think. Upon arriving, armed with a few names and with Gina in tow I spent most of a day walking around Sukhumvit (a neighborhood in Bangkok well known for both tailors and prostitutes).

jesse&victorIn the end, I decided on Rajawongse Clothiers. The two Sikh tailors, Jesse and Victor, are as nice as they come and both have an absolutely incredible knack for remembering names. My suit, which is what this is all about right, is fantastic. If you’re ever in Bangkok and you’re looking to get a suit made, it is more than worth the slightly higher price ( I paid roughly US$ 360 for a jacket, pants and two custom shirts) and the taxi ride from Khaosan road to Sukhumvit to visit Jesse and Victor.

Dec 09


I had been nearly two years since Gina and I had climbed routes. As we jumped from the long-tail onto Ton Sai beach and looked around us at all the climbers, pulling on steep limestone less that 30 meters away, I felt like an estranged member of the family. Feelings of loss and yearning and of not belonging poured over me. That evening we half-heartedly bouldered on the beach, surrounded by chiseled sport-climbers doing routes, I felt exceedingly weak and sorry for myself. This was my world. Where had it gone? What had happened?

The next day we awoke and decided to give the bouldering another go, maybe we just needed a few days to get back into the swing of things.

“There’s the guy that looked like Frank.” Gina pointed discreetly to a guy that she had seen the day before who resembled an old friend. A guy she had discreetly stalked down the beach to get a closer look at.

“Ah ok.” I have never met Frank, wouldn’t know what he looked or looks like.

“No it’s definitely not Frank. But he does look like Filip, from Poland…”

“No…I don’t think so” I responded, not convinced.

“Here, yell Filip and look away, I’ll see if he turns around.”

“No. It’s not him.”

“Filip. FILIP. FILIP!” The yelling got progressively louder until the climber in question turned around. Perhaps just to see what all the yelling was about.

As soon as he turned, it was instantly clear to both of us that it was definitely Filip, our Polish climbing friend who we had originally met in Yosemite, near the same patch of earth that Gina and I met on. It had been four years since we’d seen Filip last, in Poland. Yet, here he was, half a world away, standing on a beach, hugging Gina and filling us in on news about our other Polish friends, Maciej and Wawa. It was wonderful to hear the polish accent again, see the familiar gestures and to have a friend to helped bridge us back into the world of climbing. A familiar face in a strange land was all it took. Railay is a magical place, plenty of fun people, so much fun climbing (yes, I’ve gotten over my [some may call it unfounded] distaste of limestone) and a wonderful, sparkling sea just over your shoulder while you’re climbing.

Two weeks and many climbs later, Gina and I are back in Bangkok with Filip and Joanna. We leave Thailand tomorrow, for Buenos Aires via a weekend in LA with Claire. Buenos Aires, LA: All of this seems more than a world away, and for now, I’m content to think of clipping bolts in the setting sun, of lowering back to the sand with pumped forearms and of taking off the harness for a quick cool off in the sea between routes.


The approach

Belay with a view

Beach bouldering

Check out all the Railay photos >