Monday, May 23, 2011

Backpacking Zion National Park

I haven't been able to work much since I've been home from my trip due to this thing or the other, but one project I was really looking forward to and would not miss for anything was the backpacking survey scheduled in Zion National Park.  I haven't done much work in national parks, none besides Mammoth Cave, and once upon a time it was my goal in life to get a permanent job at a park out west somewhere.  Well, this survey would have to do.  I packed my backpack full of food, warm clothes, and a tent.  We arrived in the southwest area of the park known as the petrified forest at a trail head where we were to hike in a couple of miles to the camp.  The area that stretched before us was burned and desolate with views of the beautiful rock formations Zion is known for in the distance.  We found what was barely a trail and began the march with a huge backpack, and most of us with our work packs on our front.  It was heavy! 

The loss of the trail made it difficult, but we trudged on following a creek bed and using the map to guide us.  After 2 of some of the longest hiking hours I've spent we finally found our camp.  It was perched on a knol overlooking a beautiful stream.  The only problem was that stream was our water source and it was a bit of a hike up and down.  Water is essential so me and my crew made the trip, filtered the water, and came back to camp with enough time to make dinner and go to bed.  The next day we began the survey and discovered exactly what obstacles we were going to have to face.  The terrain was very rocky, strewn with lava boulders from a nearby caldera.  Which if you could see the ground could be dealt with but long grasses that took over after the 2006 fire often came up to my thighs blocking my view of the ground.  Water seemed to be a problem right from the start.  One of my crew members didn't feel the need to bring adequate water so the rest of us had to give up ours for him making for dehydration and frustration.  And the NATS!! Every time we stopped to record something they swarmed and bit.  By the end I looking like I had chicken pox covering my neck, face, ears, and arms.  They were incredibly annoying and itched like mad.  There was no relief so those of us affected the most were almost driven to insanity. 

We were able to move campsites the last 2 nights putting us right next to the stream, which was nice given the difficult days.  I was able take a quick cold bath at night before dinner which really lifted my spirits.  There was a beautiful spring coming straight out of a rock overhang covered in orange flowers down stream a bit which made it even nicer. 

At night we could hear the coyotes calling just after sundown, but other than that it was quiet and peaceful out there.  We managed to finished the survey in only 5 days, which required some 10 plus mile days.  It was hard, hard work and most of us were ready to go.  The hike out proved to be a bit less of an ordeal because we knew where we were going and how far.  I felt a lot stronger and very accomplished when we reached the trucks.  We headed into Springdale for some lunch.  A meal never tasted so good after only dehydrated and canned for 5 days.  Some of my co-workers said they never wanted to do a backpacking job like that again, and although I did share in some of the negativity at times, overall I found it to be an adventure and a good work out, both of which I needed. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guangzhou, China

We arrived in China at 11p.m tired.  We had to go through customs to get a 24 hour visa so we could leave the airport.  The airline had a car waiting and a hotel paid for and ready to go for us.  We got to the hotel, which was nicer than I expected or have experienced in awhile, but this is not to say it was great.  The beds were rock hard.  I am pretty sure it was just a wooden board over springs.  But there was hot water and air conditioning! And no bugs!  We woke up the next morning and headed out into the city to explore.  This proved far more difficult than I expected.  NO ONE spoke English and we were ill prepared.  We hadn't learned one word in Chinese or bothered to look up the exchange rate.  We needed money to eat but had a hard time finding a bank that would take our cards and figuring out how much Yuan we need to get out.  We were lost.  We finally found a man who told us that 650 Yuan equals $100.  That was a strange way to put it, but it was helpful.  We got out around $30 and began to walk around the area.  We were afraid at first to get too far from the hotel because no one would be able to help us find our way if we did get lost.  We found a clothes market and entertained ourselves there for awhile before heading down the main road where we saw the strangest game being played.  It was like something at a fair.  There were all these little cages with bunnies, guinea pigs, or birds in rows.  People had to throw rings and get it underneath the cage to win the animal.  Who goes out in the morning and on a whim gets a pet because they won it on the street?  Seemed like you were looking for a big commitment every time you threw the ring. 

We kept walking and saw the subway and decided to see if it was do-able.  It was!  We figured it out easily and headed 9 stops away to Yuexiu Park.  This is a huge park with lots of stuff to do.  Its full of winding paths and trees.  There's a gigantic pool  and an amusement park in the center.  It was really only about 6 fair quality rides, but it was fun.  I rode the swings and  had a blast.  We ate some popcorn and ice cream and walked around for awhile. 

Back out on the street Jeff had a corn on the cob from a vendor.  I tried to get some chestnuts, but I must have done something wrong because the lady got mad at me and wouldn't give me any.   No nuts for me.  There were some beggars on the street with some very scary ailments.  We decided to get back on the subway and try another stop.  We got off at one that said Cultural Park.  It wasn't.  It was a barren field surrounded by big buildings.  We got straight back on the subway and headed back to our stop, where we found a McDonalds and ate a snack.  We hadn't been able to find a place to eat all day that looked safe or had a menu we could read.  

We walked around some more and found the biggest and neatest market.  It was full of stalls selling all sorts of weird foods.  Lots of vegetables and fruits.  I bought 3 tiny mangoes. There were butchers chopping up chickens and pigs.  There were fish mongers.  The fish were alive when they start to fillet it for a customer.  They pull it out of the tank and with in a minute the fish is in pieces ready to cook.  We saw stands selling live frogs, turtles, and snakes.  We watched a guy kill a cobra, cut off its head, then skin it for a customer.  There were tons of spices and grains in big burlap sacks.  It was fun taking pictures of all the weirdness.  This market was my favorite part of the day.  

We headed back to the hotel to clean up before our ride back to the airport.  Our flight from China was 13 hours to Los Angeles.  Then a quick flight home to Arizona.  We are home now and happy to be with Jeff's parents where we have pillows, good food, and people who love us!  Welcome home us!

Sabang Village, Philippines

We spent the last few days of our trip in a small, very touristy village on the northern coast of the island of Mindoro.  It's only 3 hours from Manila so it's a popular destination.  There are 2 main activities that go on here for the traveler.  The first is diving.  There are loads of dive shops.  In fact most buildings along the shore are dive shops.  The second is renting girls.  It took me awhile to fully understand what was going on but with some help from some locals at the dive shop we hung out at we finally began to understand the underworld of this village.  White men, most European, come here, go to the disco, pick out the girl they want, then pay her to hang out with them for 24 hour periods or more.  I had the hardest time with this.  The men grossed me out so bad!  And these poor women!  They had to hang out with them, and pretend to like them!  We were told that most of the women do not come from the area, but were hired from other places as "waitresses" but upon arrival where forced to do this.  There are pimps involved, but I guess after awhile the girls start to embrace their new life because they begin to develop attitudes.  I sometimes got dirty looks because I was with a white man.  I think they thought I was somehow taking a job from them.  They also seemed quite confident.  They strut around like they own the place.  It was really really bizarre.  Maybe I am naive, but I just don't get how any man with any sort of respect for themselves or for women could come here and BUY companionship.  Ok, I'll get off my soap box and tell you what we did here...

I came to the island with a cold so I had to wait a couple of days to dive, but Jeff got right in the water.  He had a great time and saw lots of cool little critters.  When I finally felt my congestion subside we decided to take another class. Nitrox.  We really need to have this class if we ever want to work in diving so we decided to do it.  All it is is reading a 30 page book and taking an easy test.  Nitrox is a blend of gas that has more oxygen than the normal air we breath.  The basic benefit is being able to dive longer because your body doesn't absorb so much Nitrogen (which is bad if you stay down too long).  I am a bit of an air sucker so it didn't really benefit me at all (I run out of air before I even get to stay down longer than usual), but I now am certified to use it whenever I want to.  We did 2 dives on it and saw loads of really cool things.  I finally saw an Octopus!  And lots of really big fish called sweet lips. We loved the dive shop we dove with.  They are locally owned with all Filipino employees and very very nice.  One night we stayed and hung out there just talking with them til 1:30 in the morning (way past my bedtime)-this is when i learned so much about the ladies of the night.  We met some lovely travelers there.  A couple from Vancouver who are Filipino, but their families moved in their teen years for a better life.  They were full of helpful information and so nice to have around in a village full of gross old white men.  

We had fun just walking around through the village.  Eating was a bit of a chore because it was so expensive in most places.  Even for U.S. standards.  We ended up eating 3 out of the 5 nights there at the same restaurant.  It's owned and ran by a local family.  It's set back off the main alley way so they post one of their sons out to get people to come in.

 It worked on us one night and we loved it.  They are so nice and the mom was a really good cook.  Our last day one of the sons gave us the recipes for our favorite dishes.  For breakfast we usually went to the same spot, a little bakery with croissants and muffins.  Lunch was a little less predictable, we just got something cheap somewhere.  Jeff loved the BBQ pork from the street vendors.  They put really small slices of pork on a stick and grilled them, then dipped it in a vinegar sauce.  He loved it.  I wasn't as impressed so I shared mine with a skinny girl dog I found.  

Our last day we decided to go inland a bit and explore.  We wanted to rent a motor bike so we walked down the shore.  It doesn't take long to be hassled about just about anything you could want so we waited only 3 minutes and found a guy who wanted to rent us a motorbike.  Another man we had met the first day and had helped us on occasion confirmed that the guy was trustworthy so we went with him to his shop.  We got on a bike and started down the road.  At our very first turn Jeff managed to not turn and ran us into a wall/gate.  I was a bit mad and refused to get back on the bike.  Jeff thought it was funny.  

I got one of the 20 guys who ran to "help" us after the crash to drive it back to the shop with Jeff on the back.  I walked.  Luckily the guy didn't get mad and didn't charge for the scratches.  He offered to take us around and we agreed.  We piled 3 deep on a bike and headed to some waterfalls.  The falls were beautiful!  We swam in the cold water at the base of them for a bit.  Our driver, Robin, took some pictures for us.  He turned out to be a very good tour guide. 

Our next stop was white beach.  But on the way we were held up by road construction.  They were digging out the side of the hill next to the road and all the big rocks were blocking the road!  I was worried we would be stuck there all day but I guess they know what they're doing because within a half hour they excavated lots, and were able to clear the road for us to pass.

White Beach is a big white beach, as you probably guessed.  Its another tourist spot but geared more toward Filipino tourists.  We were hounded immediately by touts.  I was pressured into buying 2 bracelets.  Neither of which i liked all that much, my defenses just get weak sometimes and I just needed a break.  Sometime the only way to get them to leave you alone is to buy from them.  Jeff swam a bit while I laid on the beach.  We headed back after awhile. We were leaving the next day and needed to pack.  It was an adventure of a day and I was ready to eat supper and go to bed.   

The next day we took a ferry, then a bus,then a taxi, then the metro, then a tricycle, then another taxi to the airport.  We were headed to Guangzhou China for one day before heading home.