I returned from travels Thanksgiving 2013. A year has passed. I’m reminiscing with some of my top trip experiences:
- Getu Valley and The Great Arch. A couple of dreams realized. Experienced an amazing setting - a remote locale nestled high up in the karst caves in Guizhou (China), in a climbing-driven stay that lasted a month. A tiny village of a few hundred people, many of whom had not seen foreigners until a few years ago - and not any Indians until me I suppose! The climbing was surreal, esp at the jaw-dropping Great Arch. I also achieved some climbs in the 5.13 sport climbing grade, a goal I had set out at the beginning of the year. Beautiful friendships were formed while sharing those dusty but cozy home-stays, playing with the local kids. quaffing those endless bowls of noodle soups, ending with the 10 cent mysterious ice-cream bars, and of course the amazing, long, physical limestone lines. What more could I ask for?
- The Green Climber's Home in Thakhek, Lao. A hidden climber's camp deep in the jungles outside Thakhek, Lao, I had not originally known about when I began my trip. Run by the lovely Tanja and Ueli, two climbers from Germany who stopped by while on a tourney around Asia and somehow never left. A climbing trip to a new exotic place would by itself be a satisfying synopsis, it would however omit some of the more enduring moments - evening moonlit runs on the jungle trails to a secret lake culminating in skinny-dips with friends, hair-raising Beer Lao-fueled stories exchanged over late night campfires, tasty Laotian Som Tam, mango-sticky rice and ground pork salads made by our lovely local chefs, and esp the paternal care extended by our lovely hosts that makes this a cherished memory I cannot wait to relive.
- Returning to Thailand. This was my 3rd trip to Thailand to climb and 4th trip overall. This trip felt different since past trips had been quick breaks from work while this was just the beginning of my year off. Best moments were kicking back with cold beers sinking deep into sore muscles and feeling content after a full day of pulling on the limestone as we took in the sunset over the placid waters of the Andaman sea. I also loved visiting the Northern city of Chiang Mai. The highlights included a weekend trip with Marie to Chiang Dao, a beautiful mountain 2 hours outside the city.
- Going exploring in the forests outside Arugam Bay and finding large herds of wild elephants. A particular evening stands out where in our greed to photograph a big bull up close and personal, we invoked his ire and almost got charged. It could have gotten ugly.
- Solo morning surf sessions at Peanut Farm (a surf break outside Arugam Bay) while was putting my Sri Lankan surf apprenticeship :) I would be the only person the entire morning on a world class right-hand point break. I would arrive around 7 am. Surf, eat, nap, surf some more until my arms felt ready to fall off. I had a few sessions like these before the masses also discovered that the sands had shifted enough for this beautiful wave to start working again for the season. I also credit Peanut Farm with teaching me how to surf. I spent many sessions there, fumbling a lot, taking off at times, finally reaching a point where after countless visits I knew the wave better than most and would sometimes catch up to twenty waves during a single session in the water!
- Going swimming early season at Okanda. The little village feels like the end of the world. It's an hour-long rickety moto ride from Arugam Bay. Early season meant that the wave wasn't breaking yet and there were no other tourists. Marie and I went swimming in this picture perfect deserted beach and spent the day frolicking. A quintessentially perfect rest day.
- Saving Ollie after a near-fatal motorcycle accident on the Sri Lankan highways. Not a pleasant experience but I am fortunate to have been allowed the opportunity and glad that I was there to assist and escort Ollie through Sri Lanka's chaotic but caring medical care system.
- Taking my parents for a safari to Kumana national park in the East Coast of Sri Lanka. It was a treat to have my Dad, well versed with the natural world, and particularly encyclopedic about birds of the Indian sub-continent. come alive with glee, as he educated the rest of us on the fascinating creatures that we spotted. It was humbling yet joyful to be back learning from my parents, and a soothing reminder that I can always look to them for inspiration and scholarship. It was so nice to have my parents visit me during my travels and get a taste of the backpacker / surfer lifestyle. They took everything in their stride in such good spirit. Staying with me at the simple cottages by the beach; making muesli breakfasts together; going for languid walks down the village; they were such a good sport. Thanks for stopping by Mom and Dad.
- With some free time in Delhi as I recovered from minor eye surgery at the end of the trip I found a music school to teach me the basics of the dholak, a classical Indian percussion instrument. It also provided me a first-hand glimpse where hidden underneath the polluted skies and ugly classism, there are beautiful art forms that this historic city can still offer, if you just know where to look.