Saturday, 24 April 2010

Go East young man

At times it felt strange on I-80.  All the signs pointing east and I'm thinking why am I going this way? Everything in the past five years has been pushing to the west.  Pushing upwards in elevation.  Trips home involve quick flights and short stays.  Now I'm committing to over a month on the path of friends, southern food and world class climbing.  
Started the trip off right  in Denver and saw Mike George.  Its refreshing to see old friends and be able to pick up right where you left off.  Despite arriving smelling of stagnant water when I stepped into a wetter ditch than I anticipated during a post construction zone drive that lasted what seemed like hours to a bladder that was going to explode.  The next gas stations involved me cleaning off in the sprinklers then bathroom while laughing at my ridiculous situation.  Road trips are never boring.  

Monday, 5 April 2010

Walking down the concrete path, I turn off my headlamp.  Full moon in Zion National Park and we have the Angel's Landing trail to ourselves.  Its funny how waiting until midnight gets you that chance.  My tired feet plod on downward and my eyes adjust to the dark shadows and illumated path around me.  The white calcite on the canyon walls glows eerily as we stride down, exhausted towards the car.  Towards food, bed, and no agenda tomorrow.  The 1200 feet of climbing that we woke up at four a.m. is done.  
    Lunar Ecstasy was the route that Brian and I have now finished.  For my non climber friends and family you can read more about it at. the link at the bottom of this post.  Brian is a seasoned Zion climber having soloed this route over three days and two nights in a previous year.  Our goal was to finish this grade five in a day.  Its been climbed in as little as four hours although most parties take two days or else fix lines the night before to go for the in a day ascent.  The end result of our push was twelve great hours of climbing with good efficiency and then a struggle for the top when I discovered at bolt was missing.  It took a long estimated 2+ hours for the last section to go down.  It took me going down twice and a good lesson on hooking in zion sandstone.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Hot was the word when I landed. It didn't stop til the a/c started and that wasn't until Vietnam. I never thought I'd be arriving in this country however the lure of Ankor Wat filled with amazing sights and history drew me in a way that I couldn't pass through Southeast Asia without visiting.

It was surprisingly easy to obtain the visa and get through customs. I secretly smiled to myself when the visa officer told me that I didn't even need a passport sized photo because they could just scan it, thus I avoided paying Walmart that extra eight dollars two months ago. Maybe it was because I chose to fly and the clientele who come to Siem Riep via air compared to the dirty packpackers on the bouncing buses spend more money but I was through the airport and out into the chaos lickety split. Immediately assaulted with cries of taxi, moto, I opted for the latter. It turned out to be the wisest two dollars I spent as my driver was Kong as in King. This man turned out to be my guide to not just the temples of the Khmer kingdom but a window into the life of Cambodia. As I discovered the guided service were more expensive if you want to travel independently and the other option of going with a bigger tour group seemed, well repulsive. I'm spoiled by the travel I've done alone so far and wanted the trend to continue.

Thus Kong was the key to this.

We made it to the temples that afternoon and while I ate lunch he taught me basic Cambodian words and taught me about the history of the temples. He was not allowed to enter the temples with me as he wasn't an official guide. Any Cambodian man who wanted to be a guide(i saw no female guides) had to pay 2000-25000 dollars to take the guide classes or get the certification. So until Kong came into what is a lot of money to a man born in a straw hut perched off the ground he will have to settle with being a well informed motor guide or tuk tuk driver. I toured Ankor Wat and then went over to Ta Phromh which was another temple complex overgrown by trees! Such cool scenery and I was lucky to have a small amount of crowds there compared the the hoards of people at the previous temple. Sunset was caught at another place still Pre Rup. Up high on stone build over a thousand years ago I saw a fiery sunset that burned through the clouds with a blood red sun that did flash green just before it disappeared(right Uncle Chris!)

Day two started early and I soon found myself putting my faith in others and little Kong (5'6'') translated to a pharmacist? that I had a sore throat from Thailand's burning northern land and needed relief! My mystery meds in hand we jetted off along the nicely paved roads to the temples. Along the way you pass by rivers with shacks hanging over them next to five star hotels. The wealth us tourists compared to the locals was staggering.

After going out in the morning to visit temples we drove out to the village where Kong was born and the wedding was being held. The houses we past were all designed up off the ground. They ranged in size but none seemed bigger than 30 by 40 feet. Much of the day to day activity took place underneath the house where cooking, hammocks and other items were stored. The rainy season Kong told me was quite wet and flooding could occur hence the raised houses and in the hot weather of the dry season it provided relief from the blazing sun. His family all greeted me with stares and smiles as Kong spoke with them. He told me he was going to shower and I said I may as well. I then noticed that showering consisted of doing your business wrapped in a sheet not more than ten feet away from where at least as many people were standing. I opted for a face wash as I wasn't comfortable enough with deftly manoeuvring the sheet to not give everyone a free show. He told me his aunt was joking about my nose as they are jealous of the big European shnozz and think they are beautiful. I enjoyed sitting with his family and it was still uncomfortable at times which let me know that it was worth doing.

Then I met his best friend who came up not much higher than my waist. Kong told me he is small but he makes up for it when he drinks beer as I was soon to find out. The three of us hopped on the motorbike and we rallied the rest of his family and soon we were all riding together to the wedding. We were greeted by the bride and groom along with their wedding party and parents immediately. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality I was shown. Everyone waied me( a greeting w/ buddist orgins, similar to bowing with your hands in a prayer gesture over your face) as I return the gracious gesture and then as a complete stranger they all repeated the greeting and beamed as I entered there wedding party. We sat at a table with music blaring out of a wall of speakers and the 7 courses of dinner began. Ten men we were all together at what would become one of the rowdy tables. Ice was immediately set on the table and put into our glasses. I soon found out that I would not be able to fill my own glass as everyone around me seemed to quickly fill it with ice and beer as soon as it neared empty. We drank Black Panther stout and Hello Beer along with Ankor beer as well. Everyone cheers ed as the beers were filled and then repeated the cycle. Smiles flashed as fast as the beer was poured. We ate and drank merrily for the next couple hours. Dancing began soon thereafter. Tables cleared away and everyone moved together in one big circle dancing individually. I was pulled and called out to show off my dance moves and I'm sure I embarrassed myself in true Daufenbach wedding fashion. It was such a joyous event that I was so lucky to attend. We left our wedding gifts as the party ended and found solace in the hammocks nearby for quite some time. Sunset was watched as the day drew to an end.
It was a great chance to see an event I've been to so many times at home and watch as people celebrated in a different way but with similar enthusiasm. I feel very lucky to have been invited!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Doi Mae Salong

I'm breaking into Thailand and starting the order in reverse! My day was invigorating that I can't wait to get this down. It could be the massive amounts of caffeine i've ingested but i only see that as a positive when it comes to writing.
Woke up in Chiang Rai. Small town on 60,000 and had one mission on my mind. I will find a motorbike. In Thailand there is not much in the way of precaution about letting a white visitor use a motorbike and I have been taking advantage. Now in a new town I need to get one and get out to the heart of Thai's tea country. Tea means mountains and mountains mean power. So i needed a beefy ride to get me up but one that does everything automatically to make up for my newbie prowess with a bike. So the shop i found with the nice bike and helmets worked well and before 830am I was on my way with a yellow helmet and my backpack strapped to my stead.
As I cruise out of the city on the left hand side of course, I take a mental check of my trip. Backpack appears to be securely strapped, highway for 30 k then 40 k of winding uphill paved roads, and gas tank is full. After some prayers for safety I sink into the groove of defensive driving mixed with bursts of speed to get around the slow moving trucks and occasional moto driver who want to drive against traffic! The signage in Thailand is relatively easy to follow and I soon find myself at the start of the country road to Doi Mae Salong. A few minutes past roadside shops and I find myself relatively alone on roads laid out to get folks up the mountain. The air is thick as smoke and haze settles all around. Its the time of year where farmers burn there land for different reasons and the result is smog in the kind of areas where on would hope for clear air to promote the beautiful landscape around you. The end result is see off into the distance is not possible and i inevitably enjoy my immediate surroundings and smells.
I get into a groove of curving up the road and begin to relax more as the sun heats up the land. I pass my first tea plantation. Rows of hedged green bushes terrace up and down the landscape. The curves become tighter and the moto is forced to slow as the town approaches. Hotel is found and I'm off to taste teas. Now a properly full stomach is in order to start a day of tea drinking so I'm estatic when I see fresh mushrooms and vegetable stir fry on the menu. When the steam dish comes out minus the fungi I question and am given another dish! Well now on a full stomach but questioning where the mushrooms were I drive down 100 meters to a tea factory. I am greeted by a lady who appears in here twenties and she motions me to sit. I use my Sawadee Krupp to say hello and realize that I will have to dig deeper to get a conversation going. A man quickly joins us and smiles as I keep doing whenever I make eye contact. I've noticed the Thia's love to smile especially to break an awkward silence as I have a tendency to do the same it works out well! There are cups of all shapes in front of me and a chemisty looking set of glass to heat water. Behind the tea bar, is a display case containing what I assume is the teas make here. The man speaks very limited english so I pull out my guidebook to point and say what is your name. We get past the akwardness and soon my som boon and I are becoming friends. Oolong tea is a specialty here and it tastes as good as any other kind I've tried. Each brew is poured into a wide mini bowl and then poured into a long cylindrical container which fits inside the rim of the bowl. You then flip them upside down so the bowl is on bottom and the cylinder is upside down full of tea, resting in the bowl. Then after wait the appropriate amount of time you slowly pull the cylinder up filling the bowl with tea and put the hot cylinder up to your nose to sniff the tea scent. You also roll this between your hands b/c of the heat! Then taste the tea and enjoy. His wife dissapears and we walk to the tea factory through the doorway and look at all the instruments they use. After that we walk back and I am surprised by birthday cake his wife Chuy Sing has brought out! Today is her birthday and I was lucky enough to be there for it and also worthy to be given a cool tasty gift!

Friday, 19 February 2010


Well I'm writing belately about this adventure but I'm going to attempt to keep the writing in order of my appearance in these places!

The sleeper bus bounced into the beaches of Natrang early in the morning. This was apparently the site of one of the bigger and early beach invasions that the US took part in. There are definately no remnants of that as the curling waves and beachside resturants produced mellow hawaii like vibes. I do believe that exiting a sleeper bus is a prime example of the lowest functioning brainwaves possible. Most people are looking around dazed as the sleep you hopefully snatched in fitful spurts has been interrupted by bumps on the road and honking that never ends. Watching myself and the students wake up as we stumbled into a courtyard to begin bathroom breaks and breakfast. This organizing takes all mental abilities I have and I soon realize that I will have to treat myself to a strong local coffee...

As the sugar and caffiene surges into my body I eat a omlet and look at the beach. We shuffle along to another bus which takes us past huge hills covered with granite boulders and cliffs. Then the travel gets vertical as we begin the ascent to Dalat, a mountain town of about 5000 ft in elevation, resting in a beautiful valley. This town is also the local honeymoon capital of Vietnam and there is a lake in the middle of the city where we were told numerous times that lovers walk around.
A hotel is procured by a task force of students and we settle in for a few hours. A run around the lake by Nate and I begins and much to our surprise the lake has been drained and is now a pile of mud where locals were pulling clams from as they walked up to there waist in muck. So there went the romantic run but the rest of the city was full of restaurants and hotels but it felt different because so many of the tourists were not Western but Asian or Vietnamese.
We dined at the chocolate cafe that night which was the best presentation/meal combo we have had yet. All for the cost of 10 us $ for 3 people!
Up the next few days were some adventure activities. Day one was Canyoning. We walked down a paved path to a waterfall. There was a roller coaster above our heads, rock music playing and vendors lining the path to this scenic wonder! It seems many of the waterfalls are like this in Vietnam. Once we passed this waterfall however we entered a canyon were lush pine trees mixed with jungle vines which curled and were strung from rock precipices along the walls above us. We quickly learned that we would be rappelling down waterfalls and into pools!
This was enough of a scare for the students to cause them to bond together and form a supportive team for all the folks who were pushed to their limit. Being scared and lowering yourself down a rushing waterfall was adreniline pumping and as we watched them going down with bulging eyeballs and looks of shear delight/fear we called out and encouraged as a cohesive group! The final water fall was aptly called the washing machine and as you lower yourself into a chimmney of rock with water knocking you around you experience a disorienting feeling where you have to trust in the process and know it will be okay!
Mountain biking and more good meals followed the next few day!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Hue more

As we guided our bikes down the equivelent of a country lane in the outskirts of Hue children began screaming with delight as we cruised by. This was to be a common trend throughout the trip. Fifteen giants with helmets delighting children into fits of screaming and giggles. It has consistently put huge smiles on all of our faces!
Our final destination was a orphange where we were to spend the next five days. We immediately met with the Hue(a woman) who ran the school there. She was kind, spoke English but was difficult to understand and was genuinely very proud and happy to have us there. We also met with the founder. He was a humourous man who spoke his own language and as much English as we spoke Vietnamese. Which is not much. So far we had hello, thank you and goodbye down. At least most of time. As the owner spoke through a translator we understood that they were really looking forward to working with us. As teachers we were treated with utmost respect. Apparently teachers are as revered as much as doctors if not more in Vietnam.
We took a tour of the orphanage and were served a meal by the house mothers there. We were to be treated to these homecooked meals three times a day for the rest of our trip. It was so good. Soups with pork and noodles, sweet potatoes, rice, fish cooked whole, pho, desserts of fresh fruit everymeal and more. This was the best chance we had to eat as the people of this country do and we took advantage. After our meal we found out what we were to be doing.
A playground needed to be constructed in an area currently coved with trees and uneven dirt. There was a fish pond that was going in the middle and sidewalks and swings to be put in on a later date. check out for some pictures and background.
We kept getting glimses of the intially shy children there. They would come smile and then disappear giggling. Finally it was time to head home via bicycle.
The next two days consisted of hot labour on the playground. We had huge mounds of dirt to move via shovels, picks and wheelbarrows. Our goal was leveling the ground. I worked as much as possible on the tree removal team. Being well versed with a chainsaw I was not given the opportunity to cut them down by hand. We used scyles and a two man saw to cut the big and small trees around. I don't know why it is so much fun to do but I love watching trees come crashing to the ground provided they land on know one and come down for good reason! Students were also given the chances to go and play with the orphans as they were around during breaks in school. We learned some fun games they played and were amazed at the simple tools they had to play with and how much fun they had with them. I can't imagine Americans enjoying playing jumping games with rubber bands or playing jacks with rocks but as we joined in it was relieving to see this gameboy generation of students I was helping to teach enjoy what saw the children of vietnam use.
A day off allowed us to tour the city which was dominated by the Chinese rulers for hundreds of years. Everywhere were huge memorials, or grave but not in the sense of the ones we know. They were all around and then downtown was structured like the Forbidden city in China with moats, huge walls surronding buildings with open squares and courts. We went to the Hope village that day as well and learned and met the folks there who made handicrafts there. All of them suffered from disablilities of some sort and this center trained them in ways they could make a living. It was one of the most memerable moments of our trip as our initally uncomfortable students spent two hours playing, singing songs, taking thousands of pictures and communicating with the folks there. I was seated at a table with four of our students and five people who worked there. We struggled to communicate until we discoved that one of them was deaf and spoke American sign lanuage. One of our students started to communicate with her own knowledge and they ended up talking for hours as we all jumped in. So cool!

Friday, 29 January 2010


choo choo...the nice long sleeper train was pleasant and we woke to views of the first working rice fields we've seen yet. Farmers were out planting rice in the rain. The land was partitioned off into green squares with raised earth making indistinct barriers. It was a relaxing portion of our travels and I believe everyone was happy to be somewhere with less pollution after spending five hectic hours in Hanoi.
Rain greeted us as readily as the taxi drivers who see our group of fifteen as containing the possible to ask "Taxi" upwards of 5 times per person. Ironically as we dismissed the offers the students almost told our local contact to go away as he came looking no different in outward appearance. So Khan got us to our motel/hotel quickly and we jumped into what would be a busy schedule. We went over to get bikes. Seems simple. Now take what you've heard, what i've written and imagine the nerves of the three teachers as we quickly thought about biking with twelve students through streets filled with motorbikes thick as flies and twice as noisy. Our crux was getting our students back relatively unharmed to our hotel, where the roads were less crowded and where our time would be spent. Unfortunately we were currently in the middle of a downtownish area where crossing the street on foot took skill. We had to give a crash course to prevent the previously named event from occuring. Luck was on our side and despite the numerous moped around us most of them are more aware than the average American in their car, multitasking on the way to work. As our group departed and crossed the street I held my breath and thanked the drivers who went out of their way to steer clear of the group of giant helemeted Americans who rode down on beach cruisers complete with baskets and charming bells. Within five minutes I realize the value in having baskets as you could pull a fellow biker who lets just imagine pedal fell off the bike! Despite the overwhelming odds against us we made it all the way to orphanage where we were to spend time over the next few days....We'll i'm too tired to continue so I'll have to write more later. Take care all.