Following in Frodo’s Footsteps – New Zealand

After trying for days when Archie, Kelly and Amy were here to do New Zealand’s “Best Day Hike in the World”, Tongariro Crossing, we finally gave up because of the awful weather.   They left and the forecast was perfect, unfortunately for them and fortunately for us, we had a cloudless day full of sun.

 The hike took us eight-and-a-half hours and we were impressed!  This is where Peter Jackson envisioned “Mt. Doom” and Frodo’s hellish journey to destroy the ring.  From climbing Mt. Nguaruhoe with its steaming vents and red rock crater to the sulphuric Emerald Lakes this hike is definitely going to be in our books as one of the best hikes in the world, too bad Frodo didn’t have time to enjoy his surroundings…

Starting the hike, 6:30 am!!!

Mt.Ngauruhoe, aka “Mt.Doom”

On the craters edge

Looking out to Blue Lake, where we will be in four-ish hours

Blue Lake

Emerald Lakes

Steaming vents on Mt.Doom

Injury from “scree running”, 2 hours up, 20 mins down…

View from the summit

Not a bad lunch spot

The wildlife

Red Crater

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Drinking Tongba, Nepal – Nothing like hot beer on a cold night

When travelling you have a chance to try all sorts of interesting food and drink. Tongba is definitely on my top 10 for tastiest things I’ve put in my mouth since leaving Canada…Tarantula is not.

Tongba is a millet based alcoholic drink found in the eastern mountainous regions of Nepal. The whole-grain millet is cooked and left to ferment with a mixture called Murch (which is basically molds, yeast and bacteria). After proper fermenting, which can be up to 6 months, the millet mixture becomes Jaand.

Once the Jaand has had enough time to fully mature, the bitter tastes mellow and it becomes pleasing and “beer-like” for lack of a better comparison.

The Jaand is then placed in a large (woo hoo!) bamboo cup called a Tongba. Tongba is the more popular name for the drink. The millet mixture fills the cup almost to the brim, then boiling water is added and left to “stew” for 5 minutes. You then drink from a large straw with small holes in the bottom, which prevent you from sucking up the millet grain itself.

The key to good Tongba is patience (Which I didn’t find out until my second cup). After sucking down my first cup, the owner scurried over saying “No,no.no….slowly…”. I tried to explain that I was Canadian….He didn’t understand.

The Tongba is served with a kettle of boiled water so that once you’ve drank your way through the cup you can just refill it and let it sit, extracting all the beery goodness from the millet.

Tongba leaves you with a warm an pleasant feeling. Maybe it was the altitude? And Since it’s meant to be sipped then refilled and sipped again each drink tends to last, making Tongba a very nice evening drink. So nice that we went back for a second evening!

Harsha Lash! (To your health!)

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My Nepali cowboy adventure…not quite Quicksilver

Me and my “gas” powered stallion

Riding horses is a large part of not only traditional Tibetan and Nepali lifestyle but present day lifestyle as well. So when we had decided on Nepal I made it my mission to at least ride ONE of these trusty steeds.

We had been walking for just over a week by now on the Annapurna Circuit and had arrived at Manang just above 3000m elevation. This area is part of the Mustang region. The Mustang valley itself used to be part of Tibet and was also used as a popular trade route between Nepal and Tibet. The Tibetan influence here is strong and Nepalis are very proud of their Tibetan connections.

With a couple of days to acclimatize in Manang before heading for the 5416m high pass we decided to take a day for a few short climbs around the area. Helping to boost our red-cell count.

Our second climb of the day  was up a cliff face on a narrow rocky path, where you could see the home of the local Llama overseeing the valley. His home clung to the rock for dear life and looked as if it was he mountain that had grown up around it. It was customary to make the climb to his home where you would share tea with him and be blessed for safe travels.

It was a daunting looking climb so we quickly grabbed the chance to ride up in true style on the back of our own horse.

The way I envisioned it was this – Suzie and I would thank the local for letting us rent his horses, while we hopped on and rode into the plains for a few warm up laps before the path. Suzie’s hair, and my beard, would blow in the wind as we galloped through the mountains. Then we would ride up to the awaiting Llama like cowboys from the old west trotting into town.

The Reality:

First of all, in true lost-in-translation style. Our “rental agent”, who was basically a guy who knew a guy, thought we wanted to ride to the next town over which was a somewhat flat 30 minute journey. Not up the side of a mountain!

When we finally cleared that mess by pointing upwards towards the Llamas home, their eyes widened and in broken English we understood “Ok, but our horses have never climbed that before”…Off to a good start we thought.

High above the valley floor. The llama sat watchful over Manang from his perch

Our host coming down to bless us

Suzie being blessed for safe passage over the highest point. 5415m.

On top of that, we did not grab the reigns of our horse and gallop through the Himalayas. We were basically human cargo as the horse owners walked their horse (with us on their back) along the trail. Pretty much like a pony ride at a petting zoo.

And as if my ego wasn’t bruised enough. When we began to climb the steep trail my horse would grunt, grumble, sigh and even freeze, refusing to go any further.

We were obviously not friends.

When the owner finally convinced my “steed” to keep chugging along it would struggle and fart in the general direction of Suzie who was following close behind. When it stopped short, Suzie’s horse would bang into its rear causing the only horse traffic jam I’ve ever been a part of.

After about 45 minutes of grunting, farting and stand-stills between the owner and his horse we decided we could make better time on our own. The path wasn’t getting any more inviting and my trustee steed had done all but tip me over the edge to show its love for me.

We thanked our guides and dismounted. They looked worried, as if we were going to be disappointed with them! But we all had a good laugh (except for my horse) and sent them on their way with smiles on their faces and a few extra rupees in their pocket.

And as Suzie and I tackled the last bit on our own, I looked back to see my ride, trotting happily down the trail – stretching its back.

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Where are we now? What’s going on?

Living the dream – Raglan

So what’s the deal with the recent posts? Our stories seem to be scattered from New Zealand to Nepal!

We’re now on month 9 of our travels and have been settled into New Zealand since mid February, living mostly out of our van which we’ve lovingly named Jag. Yes, it’s the climbing, hiking and plain old bum lifestyle that’s always intrigued me…. paired with bouts of the extreme… Like washing down steaks with fine wine, dining at Auckland’s Sky-tower.

The nice thing about being settled is that we have a bit of time to reflect, and most of all……WRITE!

We have tons of stories, which we’d love to share with you and our hopes are to get caught up on some of these as we travel. Piece by piece, when inspiration and internet collide.

We’ve been through Thailand —> Nepal —> Thailand —> Laos —>Vietnam —> Cambodia —> Japan —> Philippines —> New Zealand… so far.

Lunchtime in Kaikoura

We’ve had friends and family recently come and go, and we’ve had the chance to connect with friends we’ve met along the way. Even though we’re a good 4 months away from being back to work, it feels as if the trip is on its home-stretch.

As fall turns into winter in NZ, and I look into heaters for the van. We’re planning a few more hikes, climbs and hopefully some “good ‘ole farming” experience. We’ll see where tomorrow takes us!

So bare with us as we spew our memories onto the web in whatever random order they happen to appear.

And look forward to more action, since we’ve booked our flight home for July…. Through the COOK ISLANDS, Los Angeles and San Francisco !!

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Trying to not get eaten by Whale Sharks – Donsol Philippines


Before this Title causes controversy among the biological-marine life savy, I know that Whale Sharks don’t eat you. They’re plankton eaters, and when they rise to the near surface to feed on the unsuspecting plankton that’s when we get a chance to swim with these guys…

But there’s something humbling about swimming with something that’s big enough to eat you, it really puts you in your place!

Whale Sharks are the largest fish species in the world, they can grow up to 12.6m (41 feet!) in length, and are highly sought after by fisherman. Donsol offers a chance of a lifetime to swim with these huge fish.

This town was once prime location for Whale Shark fishing but has made a depleting industry into a sustainable one. Now a lot of locals who were once fisherman are now Butanding guides, making their living from hunting these beasts in a different way.

With three other people, Suzie and I jumped on a small Catamaran style boat which takes you along the bay searching for Whale sharks. The boats don’t hold many people, and it’s left up to you to find your own group or pay for the entire boat yourself.

 

It turned out to be a great way to meet friends that we had a chance to travel with on another adventure to a Wake-boarding tow park….but more on how to faceplant at 30 km/hr later.

On the boat we were told that if we were lucky enough to find a Whale Shark, we would have to act quick to get our gear on and jump in the water, no testing to see how cold it was first.

Rules posted around the pier had stated that only so many people were allowed around a whale shark at one time, this worked out to two boats maximum. So we were picturing a relaxing and magical experience. Although it was magical, it was far from relaxing.

Reality is, all the boats tended to work together to please their passengers. Once one boat had a sighting, every boat would circle it like vultures.

Suzie and I were told to get our gear on and sit by the tip of the boat. We had fins and masks flying everywhere as we bum scooted our way from left to right depending on which side the Whale Shark was on. And then, like horses out of the gate, we got to “Go!“ signal and in we jumped.

What a rush! Once you spot the animal it’s every man woman and child for themselves, since there were about 30 people to one Whale Shark.

What I love about developing countries is that you don’t have to jump through hundreds of hoops, waivers and restrictions to get to the good stuff. I call this the “Darwin clause” meaning survival of the fittest. If you decide to jump out of a plane without a parachute, then whatever happens was meant to be.

Same applies for Whale Shark swimming. Suzie and I were ready with masks, fins and even a bit of Free-diving training, where others didn’t even have fins!

Picture underwater mosh-pitting. As we swam through legs, hands, elbows and knees getting our masks ripped off more than once. But the beauty moment was when we got ahead of the pack and were able to dive down literally beside the huge Whale-Shark-Fish.

We would swim along side of it, within arms reach, and then swim ahead to watch it pass by us before coming up for another gasp of air. We did this again and again, until the Whale Shark decided that he had enough and dove deeper out of sight and then it was back on the boat for another hunt.

The tour lasted three hours, total dive time with the WS’s varies from 0 minutes to 10 minutes on average. We were lucky enough to swim with two separate Whale Sharks, and one for 15 minutes or more!

We plopped ourselves back on the boat like soggy noodles, exhausted from the chase. With adrenalin still pumping through our body we were all smiles on the boat-ride home, happy that we had experienced yet another thing we’ll never be able to fully describe.

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