Sunday, December 31, 2006

2007 has come and gone for us here in Tonsai. The fake Christmas trees have been taken down and all the fireowrks have been exploded. And hopefully the Pha Nang penninsula will start clearing out. The last few weeks had by far been the busiests and Tonsai takes on a european feel, as the Thais are severly outnumbered by climbers and tourists. Last night (as the Americans were just waking up to New Year's eve) we went down to the beach. It was essentially a club in the sand with DJs and fireworks and buckets of beverages. I spent Christamas and other days real sick and not leaving the house so it was fun to be back out on the beach again watching the rice paper laterns and Western New Years revelry mix into the already ecclectic mix of Tonsai evenings.

Climbing has been teasing both Michelle and I. After a successful onsight of 4 pitch Humanality 6b+ just days before Christmas (and Michelle leading a series of technical 6as) I was ready to step up any a longer list of steep limestone pocket routes. Christamas eve though began 5 days of mystery Thai sickness that is taking time to recover from. The only benefit is the weight I lost is translating to feeling a little lighter on the crag, but almost a week off from climbing has definently taken some wind out of our sails. The last few days we warmed back up to the idea of pulling on tropical stone with amazing routes at the far right of Thaiwand wall and steep and crimpy routes in the shade of the deep jungle at Wee's Present Wall. The prominent peak at the penninsula's end, Thaiwand, beckons to be climbed again and again - higher and by many varying cool routes. Dangling above the sea one is always reminded just how fun climbing is!

more photos soon: limited internet here in the land cliffs and rain

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Tonsai climbing update
Michelle gets after it

After our visa-renew, adventure roadtrip to Malaysia through southern Thailand the rustic bungalows of westernized Tonsai were a happy and one-of-a-kind place to return to. It felt awkward returning the steep limestone cliffs after a week of not climbing but after a day Michelle and I were climbing apon the laurels of or previous month of steep pocket training. The climbing in Tonsai is indeed like none other and nothing but climbing itself can prepare one for both the mental and physical stamina required to get up dramatically overhanging routes. Even routes rated 6a or 6b (5.9-10b) are steep and demand muscle, good footwork, and a head for air beneath the feet.

Most climbers who have investiagted a trip to thailand know of the ongoing bolt problems here. Basically every kind of protection bolts used for rock climbing across the world fails here within a few years. Stainless stee, the obvious and standard choice for bolts worldwide breaks down abnormally fast thanks to a combination of intense sun, heat, salt water, and chemicals present in this particular limestone (some folks are saying chlorine gas, but I know too little of chemistry to understand the further complexities). What it comes down to is that anything that isn't new or rebolted is dangerous. For the last few years route builders here have been exploring many option for bolting and now all new bolts are titanium stables or bolts glue-in with super-epoxy - these work, but not without a cost.. Thousands of dollars have gone into equipping the routes here in tonsia, few passing tourists/ climbers recognize this. A few handful of devoted climbers put Tonsai on the climbing map, and many folks (including multinational development companies) are reaping the benefits.

We have been lucky to meet a collection of these Tonsai climbers. Our neighbors, lucky for us, are retroboltng routes daily, and then passing the bolting information on in the evenings. The result: we climb routes that have been lost to obscurity for a few years that are now equiped with titanium bolts just days old - a treat. Add oustanding views, technical and steep climbing on sometimes sharp sometimes flawlessly smooth limestone, cave features, open jungle and ocean below, and you've got a recipe for outstanding rock climbing.

There are always areas to explore. We hike through the jungle, traverse across ledges, wade across sand spits at low tide to reach islands in search of new crags. We are always rewarded with clean climbing in outstanding positions, and are continually challenged by the heat, bugs, and sheer steepness of Tonsai rock. These challenges, after a month, have indeed made us stonger. Michelle is leading 10s high above the ground and looking strong, I am feeling more comfortable than ever on very overhanging ground. Each day we return to our buggy and slighty ghetto bungalow and are happy with our increasing strength and confidence apon jungle stone. The areas come with telling names as well: Hidden World, Cobra Wall, Jungle Gym, Fire Wall, Monkey World, The Nest, and Wild Kingdom. We are truely climbing in a new land.

In the pictures: Michelle leans back from the third anchor of The Wave 6b/10c (5 pitches). Thaiwand wall is across the bay and Tonsai beach is below. Michelle lead the 6b crux pitch and I the rest on this outstanding moderate 100 meter route. Also pictured: approaching most crags means walking across sunny beaches and a few steps up through the jungle; Thaiwand wall (which the guidebook calls tropical alpine climbing) through a regular afternoon thunderstorm.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Road trip completed
Don't let anybody tell you you can't drive in Asia

After and short week Michelle and I have made it back to AoNang intact and happy. Unexpectedly we travelled 1500 km all the way through southern Thailand, down into Malaysia to georgetown, and then back up again. Every minute was nothing short of exciting. We stayed in a different random bungalow or hotel each night except for in Panang where we just could leave the wonderfully clean and handy SD guesthouse on Love Lane. though we didn't plan it while in Panang we were able to secure a 60 day thai visitor visa so we won't be held to anymore dates of departure and can stay in the country until our flight Feb 11.

The lands of thailand (formerly known as Siam) are diverse and mostly wild. We saw many waterfalls pouring over limestone cliffs and met many friendly locals, with which we could not converse with but who were nonetheless happy to drink ad eat with us and laugh. the kids here are especially interested in us,as they know basic English, are sometimes the most fun for us to hang out with. In Satun we stumbled across an amazing terranced waterfall liek a mix of Yellowstone and niagra and we jumped from cliffs and swam with many local kids while the dad's rolled us Thai cigarettes in their primitive bamboo papers. They feed us for what is less that a US dollar and we shared the beers we had bought.

The roads weave through limetsone towers and along mangrove swamps. there are some 4-lane highways but the second lane is used for thais most common transport: the vespa. These 120-200 cc motorbikes are everywhere here. We have seen up to 5 school kids riding one home from school. We have also seen entire Muslim families weaving through rush hour traffic with the women sitting sidesaddle holding an infant. The Thais are truely industrius and many laws like seat belts and helmets that out governments impose apon us to keep us 'safe' haven't quite caught on in Thailand.

Ao Nong feels welcoming and homely now we are back. This afternoon we will hop the usual longtail taxi back around the penninsula to Tonsai and hopefully move back in to our very comfortable stilted bungalor called Countryside. Tonsai is exciting to retuurn to though we now know how inflated theprices are there, after so much time psent in touristless Thailand. We keep reminding ourselves we are paying still so much less than anything comparable in the US and that beachside, climbing side paradise is a hot commodity where one may be in the world.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

!Road construction!

Not to worry, this bridge is just the temporary until the new concrete one (seen to the right) replaces it.

In this region of Trang, Thailand road construction was the norm, though warning signs, orange cones, and flaggers are nowhere to be found. This area was undoubtedly affected by the tsunami in December 2004 and many on these bridges and coastal roads are being rebuilt by a handful of Thai guys wearing flipflops.

Culture shocked
out of our culture shock
Southern Thailand's remote hill towns to unexpected Malaysia big city

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Krabi, Thailand is far to the north now. We have made it many kilometers to the south and successfully entered Malaysia on our climbing/cultural/visa renewal roadtrip. Call us Americans, but once again the automobile has proved one of the finest ways to explore the countryside. Driving is starting to feel normal - right-hand drive, suicidal bus drivers, goats sleeping in the fast lane, a 10:1 ratio of vespas to cars, chickens, thai letters on street signs, pot holes, wooden bridges, - despite the occasional twists ands u-turns we must make to find our way.

We had planned to enerted Malaysia and climb just over the border at a small park. After chasing a flying squirrel out of one of the holds, bushwacking through the jungle, being unable to pay to enter with local currency, walking a bizarre hanging bridge through a cave and raging dark river, and blistering hot and humid temps we were able to make it up one 5.10b on grungy jungle limestone. Without a village near the park and without Malaysian ringlet we had to travel further to Kandar to find a bank, gas, and food. We stayed in out first hotel (50 ringlet) and ate out first bread and cheese in a long time (Pizza Hut).. Malaysia was an unexpected change (very developed and quite English) and so we were tempted further south into the country today searching for both granite cliffs and a little longer taste of things familiar.

We found it on Pedang island. High rise hotels, English pubs, wedged in between chinesse food stall and kebab stands. Driving was the most intense today and I think both Michelle and I are still trying to relax from the 4 lane changes across 100 motorbikes at interstate speeds without a single vehicle using a signal. Downtown was even more intense and the only savior was the AC in our Suzuki - a luxury as temps are well over a 100F, 36C.

In search of a small climbing area and 'the oldest rainforest in Malaysia' tomorrow. then a more direct route back to the north and Tonsai. Wishing you all well... i and m

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The roadtrip begins -

To think... just yesterday we were daggling above the sea climbing a limestone tower and belaying from a longtail boat. Today we are careening around corners amongst mopeds and trucks in the rurals roads of Southern thailand..
Notice in the pictures Michelle is waving from the left side of the car. The Sporty is righthand drive and a 5-speed - two days and I'm finally driving on teh right (or left) side of the road!
Tonsia - Home sweet home

Stage One of our Thailand journey has concluded. We spent almost a month in the perfect international climbing village on Tonsai, Krabi. We climbed over the sea and the in the middle of the jungle. We faught heat and bugs and sharp yet slippery approaches and waded through the sea and talked our twisted stomachs into many a climbing day.

Evenings in Tonsai are beyond relaxing, since every bar in town lays blankets in the sand that are overtaken b y the incoming evening tide. Music is everywhere, fire spinning, BBQs and, Beer Chang are the norm.

Since tourist visas in thailand are only issued for 30 days we are now in the middle of a weeklong roadtrip to Malaysia to get the ever important border stamp before returning to Tonsai for atleast another month. Our adventure in Southern Thailand is thusfar been a cultural expereince and we see things around every corner that is like nothing else we have ever seen before. Driving is quite eventful. Though we a discovering the vibe and comfort of our Tonsai hom eis unmatched and we look forward to returning to Krabi.

The days are constantly busy here even though everyting seems to move very slowly around us. Sometimes the hardest parts of our day is finding something to eat that we can make out what is in it. Communicating is always a challenge and sometimes its just easier to find another eatery than continue to struggle to pick something off the menu. So, admittedly we are limited to businesses that present info in western script - thai characters are nothing but pretty calligraphy to us.

The journey continues and we will surely put up some pictures from our roadtrip with the 2 seater Suzuki Sporty 4WD. Til then -