The sun sets over the hills northwest of the city. Where I’m staying.
A darkening sky fades into a dusty crimson. Mojave red and carnation pink simmers at the edge of the light, before settling below the tree-less mounds. I watch from the steps at the Plaza de la Alhondiga, as has been the case the past few days.
I get sick of being cooped up. Walking sets my mind free and clears the day’s mental cache. It’s the simple movements, I think. Like molasses spilling over the edge of the kitchen counter and pooling on the floor.
Yesterday, the trees across from the OXXO shone brilliant in blooms of robin egg blues. It’s an indication that spring is here. Or on the way.
Already the flowers are falling. Perhaps one-quarter of all that have blossomed have fled. They sit on the grey sidewalk, browning.
The grass, too, is starting to green. Interspersed as it is among the low stalky chaff, the color stands out. Again, spring is here. Or on the way.
Yesterday, they mowed the young grass. You know the smell.
Anyways, through the park with the fresh cut you eventually get to the grandstand where I watch the sun downing and people milling. Some are smoking, none are social distancing. Twenty steps up, or so, I sit.
The plaza opens below, and a young boy is dancing. Or rather, he’s half-running and half-whirling dervish. His mad cavorting is a public display of irreverence and imagination. He’s wholly smiling in ecstasy.
Part of me wants to join him, and then I see his mother (or is that his sister?) eyeing me. She’s far, and you can’t really make out the details, but something says she’s cute, and probably too young.
I go back to watching the sun slowly smolder behind the hills. The shadows grow long, and the boy keeps twirling. Keeps smiling.
I think, spring is here. Yes. And with it, fresh air, flowers, color, hope. I pause, get up and go on my way.
When I left for México in December, Coronavirus wasn’t a thing.
I took a news break for awhile and went about my day only vaguely aware of what was brewing in China. A few weeks ago, a curious increase in conversation and posts about COVID-19 started to populate my Facebook feed.
So the news sucked me back in. Whoa, what a wild time we’re living in.
While China was on lock-down, freely moving travelers (for business, commerce, personal, and otherwise) precipitated a long tentacular spreading of the virus around the world.
Ever since the numbers have risen across the state, the region, the country, and the globe.
Before moving to Guanajuato, a university city where I’m currently based, I researched whether students were returning there from China. In early February, 18 students came home from study abroad, though none of them had been in the city of Wuhan. Zero cases ended up positive, so I went from Querétaro to GTO a few weeks later.
In the meantime, countries the world over enacted various forms of preventative, and catch up, measures. According to Wikipedia, “245,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 170 countries and territories, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths and 87,000 recoveries.”
As the number of confirmed has jumped upwards, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), México’s populist leftwing President, has been gallivanting around the country to fundraise, raise spirits, and kiss babies.
Alan Miranda, who was making his first visit to Vive Latino and especially wanted to see The Warning, said he felt many people are overreacting to the potential danger of contagion at large gatherings.
“Because I consider it is more a collective hysteria than any other thing. In Mexico we have a culture of a little bit more of hygiene that helps us to limit this kind of transmissions,” he said.
From what I’ve seen, and people I’ve spoken with, their attitude has been comparably casual. Until this past week anyways.
The streets have been unusually quiet. At first I thought it was the crowd dispersal post-Rally Mexico (an international rally car race through the streets and mountains around the city, and which assuredly increased the odds of transmission). Yet, a few days on and it’s the quietist I’ve seen the place since arriving.
Speaking with a barista at a cafe yesterday, I asked about the downturn. She told me there were fears, people were staying home, and the shops downtown might close up as early as next week.
Event cancellations have been on the rise of late. The Guadalajara Internatioal Film Festival, originally planned for March 20-27, was halted, school vacations were moved up and extended, and some businesses are taking their own precautions by closing or letting employees work from home.
Hell, Uber has been more proactive than the government. They suspended 242 user and driver accounts who had contact with an identified carrier of the virus. Back in EARLY FEBRUARY! This was before there were any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, showing the forward thinking possible.
Still, no real official word on what to do from the President. So far, States have been the ones to take the mantle for delivering a response.
Luckily, México is known to have a strong healthcare system compared to most of Latin America. They have some of the best medical schools in the region, well-trained epidemiologists, and a basic public healthcare system for all. The population is also quite young, with just 7% over the age 65 (compared to almost 16% in the U.S.).
Ruy López Ridaura, director of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control Programs, said Tuesday that 0.2% of Mexico’s population, or more than 250,000 people, could catch COVID-19 if there is a widespread outbreak.
Most will have only mild symptoms but more than 24,500 people would likely require hospitalization and just over 10,500 could need intensive care, he said.
Further, most of the hospitals are in urban centers, while much of population is widely dispersed, poorer, and far from the resources they’ll need. States like Oaxaca, Tabasco, Chiapas, and Guerrero may be at a higher risk than others.
You might ask, why the chilled out attitude from the government?
One theory is it’s the economy, stupid. Mexico is heavily reliant on tourism dollars, and they are already facing flat growth. Last time they shut the economy down for a virus, the 2009 swine flu, the economic pizza pie contracted by 5%.
Mamma mia, that’s a lot of dough!
I can see this on the day-to-day. Last week, I noticed the cost of my morning coffee has been going down steadily. When I first arrived, the Peso was converting at around 18 to the dollar. Today, it’s about 24. Good for me, bad for the economy.
Seems like the writing is on the walls. And with the closing of borders, I most likely need to leave now or stay for 2+ months. Yet I’m still uncertain.
Stay here and wait it out? At this point, I’m probably more likely to encounter the virus by traveling, and I have a nice little one bedroom apartment perfect for self-isolating. I’m not a major health risk to be a drain on the system, but…
Head home? In a worst case scenario–a shit hits the fan situation–the U.S. is probably the safer bet.
You’re planning a big climbing trip. It’s going to be great fun! But you want don’t want to totally hoof it, some modern creature comforts would be nice.
Perhaps like a bed, or hot showers. A kitchen with full-sized utensils, or a fully-stocked bar.
Where to go? Does modern convenience and climbing work outside of #vanlife? (#jokes)
You’re darn tooting! They are called climbing hostels, my friend. And thanks to our climbing community friends, we are sharing some of our favorite hostels and primo climbing destinations from around the world, with you. To enjoy. And to visit. Venga!
Location: Shigu, Yunnan, China Camp/Hostel:Stone Drum House Facilities: Small dorm, private rooms, yoga room, communal kitchen, food to order Nearby Crags:Shigu (easy walking from the hostel), Water & Diamond Wall (4km taxi ride followed by a 5 minute walk to Diamond Wall, or a 20-25 min. walk) Best Time to Climb: Dry season is from October to May. The best time for climbing is in the winter from November to February.
Review: Situated at the base of towering limestone mountains, Stone Drum House is a family run hostel that embraces climbers as part of their pack.
Lucy, the resident pup, was the first to bless me with greetings. This uniquely restored Naxi-style house is equipped with hot showers, filtered water, washing machines, a yoga room, wifi, and natural sitting toilets where you toss in wood chips to allow for nature to take care of your big business.
The home cooked meals were definitely one of the things I looked forward to at the end of a long climbing day. Everyone sits around a table where a family style meal is served. After we devoured the food that was presented to us, we shared our daily adventures be it climbing, market day, or hiking. A projector is also available in the same area and we made good use of it during our stay.
We rented a four-bed dorm room and each of the beds was equipped with a heating pad for cooler nights and a nice thick duvet to add to the homeliness of the hostel. We each had our own pull out storage box under the bed where we could keep our goodies nice and tidy.
The family who runs this hostel consists of Reuben, Ling, and Ashley. Reuben is the guy you thank for helping set up the beautifully bolted climbs here. You may need to start the conversation with him, but he’s a walking plethora of knowledge about climbing in general. Ling is the matron of the hostel who is a great cook and a very welcoming host. Their son, Ashley, is solely responsible for blowing kisses and bidding us a good night every night.
You can read Jojo’s trip report, with plenty of useful information, here.
Written by, Jojo Yee: “Currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, I travel the world to meet great friends and explore awesome crags.” | @jojoyees
Location: Thakhek, Laos Camp/Hostel:Green Climbers Home Facilities: Camping, bungalows, dorm, restaurants Nearby Crags:Pha Tam Kam (easy walk from the campground) Best Time to Climb: The climbing season runs from October to May, with December and January being the very best. The rainy season runs from June to September (when the Green Climbers Home is closed).
Review: “It’s next to Thailand, right? And you’re sure there’s climbing there?”
Before traveling to South East Asia, I knew next to nothing about Laos. I asked my travel and climbing partner and he assured me he had heard of a place with lots of sport climbing and some cool hut-things to stay in, so I agreed to give it a chance. Little did I know those bamboo bungalows would become like a second home to me, and the limestone walls surrounding them would hold my favorite climbing thus far in my travels.
As many people would agree, Green Climbers Home is very difficult to describe. When your tuk-tuk driver turns down the dirt road you are really entering a different world; a little climbers’ bubble in the middle of Laos. I first went to Green Climbers Home in March 2018 and instantly fell in love. The relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of the camp, paired with the beauty of the area and the tremendous volume of climbing within a few minutes walk made me feel like I was seriously living the dream. Those two weeks flew by, and I knew I had to go back as soon as I could.
I very strategically began asking Uli and Tanja about working there in the future, and the next thing I knew I was booking flights and making plans to return the following season as a volunteer.
The two months I spent working at GCH was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I think I could have happily stayed for the whole season, still feeling like I had only scratched the surface of the climbing there. With nearly 400 routes and seemingly endless potential, this area has so much to offer. I mean where else can you find a legit roof!? It is worth it for every climber to test their heel hook and knee bar skills at The Roof, and try not to get completely turned around in there. A trip to GCH also isn’t complete without a shot of Laos Whiskey at the top of the multi-pitch, best enjoyed at sunrise. And after a long day of climbing (let’s be honest, mostly sweating), you mosey into the restaurant, order the dinner special (hopefully it’s schnitzel night), pass around some climbOn, and cheers your big Beer Laos to all the sends of the day!
Uli and Tanja have built (and rebuilt after a few fires) something truly special in Thakhek, and I am so grateful to have had a small part in its story. Until next time!
Written by, Nicki Simon: “Born and raised in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, I have spent my whole life loving the outdoors and telling super cheesy jokes.” | @nickisimon
Location: Kaeng Khoi, Thailand Camp/Hostel:Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp Facilities: Camping, speciality housing (earthen houses, tree houses, bamboo house), restaurant, cooking area, equipment rental Nearby Crags:Nam Pha Pa Yai: Pasak River Wall, School Wall, Bat Cave Wall (15 minutes walk) Best Time to Climb: November to early April. Rainy season is from May to October, but many routes are underneath a roof and remain dry.
Review: This small climber’s hostel is nestled in the countryside 3 hours north of Bangkok by train (and 2 hour north of Dong Mueng).
It is one of my favourite climbing homes. I have both stayed in my own tent and in the bungalows, while other options include earthen and tree houses. Each day our “transport” to the limestone crag took 5 minutes including an invigorating zip-line across the peaceful river. Although the river wall is most popular, there’s a few other areas like the Bat Cave and Kayak Wall (accessible by a paddle).
In the evenings we were spoilt for food with epic buffets to feed us after a well earned day. It’s here I’ve eaten some of the best food in Thailand, hands down! To top off the gluttony, Joy makes the best bread available in the country: Fresh rye-walnut-sourdough. What I love about the place is how eco-friendly it is, from the mud houses to veggie gardens that supply much of the kitchen.
Our days would consist of warming up at the well stocked outdoor gym and yoga area, and playing on the slacklines under shady trees. On rest days we would go in to town for some of the best massages I’ve ever had and buy fruit, or just laze in hammocks at camp, hike up the hill or swim in the river. The area and number of climbs are not the biggest on the SE Asia circuit, but the rock and route quality is superb with routes mostly from from 6A to 8A, so there’s enough to happily spend two weeks there. The chilled vibes and beautiful area make it hard to actually leave, and easy to come back!
Note: The vibe is pretty chill. During the week there is crowd is of traveling rock climbers, about half a dozen on average. The weekends bring the crew from Bangkok, so it gets busy and high energy and psych is all about.
Written by, Zuza Kania: “I’m just ye average climber, lover of travel, exploring nature and adventure.” | @wonderlustfox
Location: Takaka Golden Bay, New Zealand Camp/Hostel:Hangdog Camp Facilities: Camping, bunkhouse, kitchen (for guests of bunkhouse) Nearby Crags:Paines Ford (quick walk), Pohara (10 minutes by car) Best Time to Climb: Year-round. Rain can be streaky.
Some people may look at it and think it’s a bit beat up, grubby, and rough around the edges. Because it is. It is absolutely all of those things. And that’s exactly why people love it. But if you’re traveling solo and fancy a climb, be sure to hit it up.
Like it says on the website, you go for a day and stay for a month. It’s pretty cheap at NZD$14 per night for a pitch, but there’s also a bunkhouse (that wasn’t available when I was there) that offers a bit more ‘luxury’ at 20 bucks. Regardless of which you go for, anyone who visits will fall in love with Hangdog’s super chilled out, welcoming nature. It’s also perfectly situated for climbers and lovers of alternative lifestyles. After all, Takaka is the best of bases to live ‘the hippy life’! The surrounding nature and landscapes are pretty epic to explore too.
More importantly for climbers, Hangdog gives you near instant access to some of the top climbing spots in the country. For instance, just across the road you duck through some bushes and enter the most picturesque of river-oases. Crystal clear waters are lined by limestone slabs. It’s bouldering paradise. There are ropes to climb up, rocks to jump off, and a sweet overhanging ceiling to get the forearms working. Get tired? Cool off in the water.
Be aware that it can close in winter time (like, southern hemisphere winter time, from June to September…ish). Head there for summer for the best vibes.
Written by, Danny Newman: “Danny’s a26-year-old digital nomad who is currently writing and traveling his way around the world.” | What’s Danny Doing?
Location: Long Dong, New Taipei City, Taiwan Camp/Hostel:The Bivy Facilities: Small dorm, private rooms, lounge area Nearby Crags:Long Dong (less than 5 minutes driving), Bitou (walking distance from Long Dong) Best Time to Climb: It’s a rainy area (140in/370cm per year). Spring and fall can have streaks of rain. Winter can be cold and occasionally perfect. Summer is dry, minus the typhoons, but very hot
Review: The Bivy is the first accommodation around Long Dong that is designed for climbers, and is what I have called my home for the last 4 years. My husband, Qx, and I are Singaporean rock climbing guides based out of The Bivy, located less than 5 minutes drive from Long Dong (Dragon’s Cave), the biggest and best rock climbing in Taiwan.
On May 6, 2015 The Bivy opened its doors to its first group of guests. Since then, we are pleased to meet and host climbers and foster friendships from all over the world. The Bivy is where climbers gather, exchange beta to get around independently and safely, and share climbing stories over beer, whiskey or sake.
Living in a quaint little fishing village, we get to enjoy nature, serenity, clean air, good spring water, small catches of fresh local seafood and seaweed. Other than climbing at Long Dong, we enjoy bouldering at Bitou Boulders and taking a walk around Bitou Cape, an underrated hike that offers a breath-taking spectacle of the Northeastern coastline of Taiwan against the backdrop of glistening waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Written by, Kelly Khiew: “Rock climbing guides and couple based in a fishing village in Taiwan with their lovely doggie, Chongchong”| @qxadventures
Location: Geyikbayiri Village, Antalya, Turkey Camp/Hostel:Kezban’s Guest House and Camping Facilities: Bungalows, posh bungalows, camping, communal kitchen, restaurant, tent rental Nearby Crags:Geyikbayiri (2-25 minutes walking, depending on the wall) Best Time to Climb: Beginning of September until the end of May
Review: This place is nestled in a valley of limestone cliffs with 360 degrees of amazing views, and approaches can be as short as a 5 minute walk.
The vibe at the camp is really chill. There is a fully equipped communal kitchen where we cooked most of our meals and there was usually a campfire at night where climbers gather. There are fruit trees plants in the camping area, so you get to sample pomegranate or mulberries while you walk back to your tent, which hovers over a wooden platform and [comes] fully equipped with a mattress, blanket, pillows, and sheets. You may also choose to set up your own tent.
Kezban’s is owned by a local Turkish gentleman named, Senol. He picked us up from the airport and we stopped at a grocery store along the way to pick up food. It was near the end of the season for climbing–April–so no one was available to cook for us.
There is also a mysterious turtle that may bless you with a siting and give you some good luck for your send day. Please give your love to the Black and White pupper here who will definitely accompany you all day at the crag.
Location: Ulassai, Sardinia, Italy Camp/Hostel:Nannai Climbing Home Facilities: Private rooms, apartment, dorms, cabins, communal kitchen, café Nearby Crags:The Canyon (minutes by foot), Jerzu (10 minutes by car), Baunei (50 minutes by car)
Review: You find this cosy home for Climbers and outdoor lovers in the heart of Ulassai. This small mountain village in Sardinia welcomes you with the warmth of a true family.
This life project started over a cold beer between 6 friends: Dreaming about changing lifestyle, [being] closer to nature and [having] a home to share all this rock and beauty became a reality after hard work and dedication.
Nannai means “grandmother” in the local dialect. And that is exactly what you get. A cosy place, great company and a family vibe. This international team with Belgians, Italians, English and even Canadian hosts create an easy going flow which make you instantly feel at home.
[Here] you will find plenty of climbing partners, tips about the best lines and sectors and an update of the freshly bolted lines by our team (now featuring over 700 routes!). The hosts can show the best hikes and beaches around and where to find the best local products
The first weekend of June, the village transforms in a true outdoor festival. Highliners, yogini’s climbers and bikers all melt together in a 3-day festival with classes, shows, workshops and a legendary party.
Written by, Sofie Van Looy: “Belgian born and community-formed, I care about welcoming people into our home and connecting them with all that Sardinia has to offer. Glad to have left the big city, with family in tow, to be closer to nature!” | @nannai_climbing_home
Location: Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain Camp/Hostel:Camping Siurana Facilities: Campground, dorms, cabins, restaurant, café Nearby Crags: Siurana (walking or light driving), Montsant (1 hour), Montserrat (2 hours), Margalef (1 hour) Best Time to Climb: Best in late fall to early spring, though because of its mild Mediterranean climate it can be climbed year round.
Review: A quick 2.5 hour drive from Barcelona, the mountaintop village of Siurana perches high above a majestic valley enshrined in limestone walls and lush greenery. Complete with a castle and café, [you’ll find] spectacular vistas which will haunt your memories for many a year. This town is home to some of the best climbing in Taragona, and of course, one of my favorite crag camps!
We didn’t exactly dirt bag it, as we (four dudes from Cali) rented a permanently parked mobile home for €70 per night. As of June 2019, camping is €7 per night and dorms are €12 per night. The mobile home came complete with a full kitchen, bathroom with shower, a master bedroom and a bunk room. While not spacious, it was plenty big for 4 people and gear. With potable water from the tap, plenty of hot water for showers, clean sheets and plenty of parking, I would gladly recommend this option to those willing to spend the cash.
The goods: Plenty of excellent climbing within walking distance at the village crags, delicious espresso, the camp’s paella is one of the best I’ve had in Spain (you have to order the night before), tasty house wine and lots of potential partners if you are traveling solo.
Notables: The bakery in Cornudella is amazing – it’s the only bakery in the town before Siurana. The bartender at the camp’s café/kitchen bolts at Montsant and has the freshest beta. Many of the eateries in both Siurana and Cornudella are closed after 10PM. Buses take lots to tourists to visit the village on the weekends so the parking and eateries near the castle can be overwhelmed.
Written by, Stephen Le: “Travel to climb; climb to explore; explore to learn.” | @rockraft
Location: Bernal, Querétaro, Mexico Camp/Hostel:Chichid’ho Facilities: Camping, dorm, cabins, communal kitchen Nearby Crags:La Peña de Bernal (5-10 minutes walk), boulders (1-15 minutes walking) Best Time to Climb: Summer is rainy season (though it only averages ~28 in.). Winter stays warm (high desert) so really, any season.
Review: La Peña de Bernal in Mexico is full of myth and questionable legend. What is undisputed is its stellar bouldering, fun multi-pitches, and excellent hostel.
The volcanic plug is the second (or third, or tenth?) largest monolith on earth, depending on which source you trust, and stands like a sentry over the Pueblo Mágico of Bernal. It’s aura is bewitching, as are the facts: It is considered one of the 13 Wonders of Mexico, the geographic center of the meandering country (again, disputed), and one of the earliest climbing hotspot for Los Mexicanos, dating back to the ’60s.
With that said, the climbing is great: Make your way to the top of the Porphyrytic steeple via one of the 20+ multi-pitch lines or enjoy over 100 boulder problems from V0-V12.
Soak it all in from your homebase at Chichid’ho, which offers an oasis-like reprieve from Mexico City (or wherever else you’re venturing from). Weekends fill up, if you’re looking for potential partners, and the quiet workdays make it a prime place for remote workers.
If the idea of lesser-trafficked multi-pitches and climbing on some of the most classic Mexican boulders sounds appealing, be sure to visit La Peña de Bernal and let it cast its spell over you.
Written by the author: “Traveler-ish, climber-ish, writer-ish.” | @aarongerry
Location: El Potrero Chico, Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico Camp/Hostel:Rancho El Sendero Facilities: Camping, dorm, private rooms, cabins, communal kitchen, restaurant, pool Nearby Crags:El Potrero Chico (15 minutes walk) Best Time to Climb: Winter is best, from November to March. Shoulder months include October and April.
Review: Rancho el Sendero is the perfect site for climbers of all budgets looking to stay walking distance from El Potrero Chico but away from the party crowds.
I spent about a week with friends in the Casa Grande and a few nights in the private room with my boyfriend. The Casa was great for a group (we were a group of five) and included two bedrooms (room 1: One king bed, room 2: One king & one twin bed), a private bathroom & full-sized kitchen area (including a refrigerator, oven, 4-burner stove top and sink). My only complaint was that we didn’t mingle with everyone else as much as we would have if we used the communal kitchen.
The reasons I loved and am recommending Rancho el Sendero:
The host went above and beyond for our comfort. I fell sick while in EPC and she drove me into town and helped me find a doctor (which was a challenge since most the clinics were closed due to a local holiday).
Thanksgiving dinner – the host cooked a surprise dinner for everyone (FOR FREE)! And occasionally made other special dishes.
Perfect location for solo travelers/travelers looking to make new friends: Everyone was friendly and inviting. If you went to the main communal kitchen you were bound to find other climbers to climb or do rest day activities with. On a rainy rest day my group of five were able to join ~6 others for a day trip to the hot springs!
Written by, Radhika Patel: “I have been a rock climber from ~9yrs & I believe climbing is one of the BEST ways to travel and make lasting connections around the world.” | @radhiworldtour
Location: Stanton, Kentucky Camp/Hostel:Climber’s Home Hostel Facilities: Private room, kitchen, climbing gym Nearby Crags:Red River Gorge (15 minutes by car) Best Time to Climb: Spring and fall are best, though winter on a sunny day can work too.
Review: Staying at the Climber’s Home hostel is like staying at your moms house.
Sunny Yang, who has been a climber for most of his life, is an amazing host. In 2014, he encountered a horrible tragedy [when he] was paralyzed in a hit-and-run. Since then he has over come many odds and is an inspiration to all who know him.
With the love of his wife and family, and the support of the climbing community, he regained his ability to walk, and climb. Now, he represents the USA on the National Paraclimbing Team. By creating the Climber’s Home Hostel, he is giving a gift back to the community.
The climbers home Hostel is equipped with everything you would need and is extremely clean and comfortable. Whether you are cooking or eating out, staying at Climber’s Home makes the culinary logistics of your trip very easy. Stanton hosts one of the few supermarkets in the area, and the hostel is located less than a mile from the local Kroger. No trip to the Red would be complete without at least one meal at Miguel’s Pizza or Red River Rockhouse, and these restaurants are conveniently located on the way to and from the majority of crags.
Written by, Sandra Samman: “Climber of 15 years and mom to a famous adventure climbing cat, Denali Gato.” | @denaligato
Location: Santander, Colombia Camp/Hostel:Refugio la Roca Facilities: Private rooms, bungalows, dorm, kitchen, restaurant Nearby Crags:La Mojarra (easy walking from the hostel) Best Time to Climb: Climbing can be had year-round, since the weather is fairly consistent being near the equator. December to February is considered the dry season.
Review: In June of 2019, I visited a climber’s dream destination: Refugio de la Roca. This ecological hostel is located in the Colombian Altiplano Mountains, and energised every inch of my body and soul. And as an environmentalist, I highly appreciated the Refugio using rain water, solar water heaters and biodegradable products.
Refugio de la Roca is known to rock addicts for it’s amazing orange sandstone climbing, La Mojarra. There are 200+ routes of satisfying cliffhangers for all climbing abilities.
As a newbie, the spacious covered outdoor area with restaurant and bar, the yoga room or hammock chill lounge was my spot to meet new friends. Here we drank healthy smoothies in the mornings or munched on gourmet style french toast, vegetable omelets and granola with organic fruits, while waiting for the sun to leave the rock face just after noon.
Warning: Watch out for the small cheeky monkey, Jacinto. He stole a lot of homemade bread buns and cigarettes packages off our tables.
Written by, Diana Dolensky: “Originally from Germany, I moved to Auckland, New Zealand in 2011 for a lifestyle change. I enjoy climbing, horse riding and travelling” | @didiana1981
Location: Huaraz, Peru Camp/Hostel:Monkeywasi (Monkey Wasi) Facilities: Private rooms, dorm, kitchen, equipment rental, bouldering wall Nearby Crags:Hatun Machay (1:20h by car), Cordillera Blanca (1:30h by car) Best Time to Climb: May-September. Rainy season begins in November
Review: Nestled in the lap of the mighty Cordillera Blanca is the compact but bustling town of Huaraz… not to be confused with Juarez, which is quite a different destination! The cityscape marches up the hills, and in the upper reaches of the town one can find an inviting climbing hostel by the name of Monkey Wasi.
Reasonably priced and run by incredibly friendly folks, Monkey Wasi is everything the discerning dirtbag climber could ask for… the beds are comfortable, the common areas are fantastic, and most importantly, the showers are hot! The mezzanine level offers a perfect venue to plan your next alpine mission, whether it’s a popular route like the French Direct on Alpamayo, or a rarely repeated test-piece like the West Face of Cayesh. There’s an excellent pizza restaurant below to refuel after a big climb, and an amazing bouldering wall to keep those fingers strong for the incredible alpine granite on La Esfinge.
Huaraz offers an incredible diversity of climbing, including bouldering, sport, trad, big wall, mountaineering and alpine climbing. Monkey Wasi is a perfect hub to meet likeminded climbers in each of these disciplines, so if you’ve come to Peru on your lonesome and hoping to hook up with partners, you could do a lot worse. Here in the “Empire of the Sun”, the bluebird days seem to go on forever, so climb hard and rest easy at Monkey Wasi.
You can read Ryan’s trip report for the 1985 route here.
Written by, Ryan Siacci, Esq.: “When Ryan isn’t swearing his way up off-widths or sobbing quietly on an under-protected multi-pitch route, he is writing for his blog.” | zenandtheartofclimbing.com
A little worse for the wear and with a smashing headache, I made it to the apartment in el centro de Queretaro. It’s been nearly 21 hours since I started traveling. I need a cervesa.
So far my Spanish is enough to navigate, and to ask silly things like, “what’s the name of that mountain with the snow on top?”. I spent much of the time on the plane(s) thinking through sentences that would be useful, and which are probably grammatically incorrect. And which most certainly contributed to my headache.
It was a different game when I had to say things out loud. Mumbling and timidity are not for the language learner. Like many con-games, I found speaking with poise more effective than quietly whispering in the wind.
Why am I here anyways?
Over the past few years I’ve been returning to the question: “Is this all there is?”
It started with a crisis of confidence when I left startups in 2015 and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell this is all about ever since.
It has little to do with startups themselves and a lot to do with a search for truth and meaning. In short, I bought the bullshit of silicon valley entrepreneurship and realized I was living according to a value system I adopted, but which learned I didn’t agree with.
It was a bit of blind faith; I let a tool shape the user, willingly at first, then sightlessly, and that’s the issue.
After the fallout, I started to wonder, “what else have I been following without much thought?”
This brings us today: I’m in Mexico for the foreseeable future to write and climb.
Basically, I don’t have many answers from these past few years. But I do have more clarity.
I know that I value independence (of spirit, mind, inquiry) and that I care about the essence of a thing. The pursuit of writing is about having freedom of location and choosing how I make money. In the spirit of journalism, it’s also about presenting truth. Climbing is a simple, if contrived, unadulterated act that is aesthetically pleasing, and physically enjoyable. I like it a lot.
Another observation I’ve come across is that you’re probably better off pursuing things that fill you up and get you excited about the world, than not. Hence, even if climbing is nonsensical at face value, so are most things in this world when deconstructed. Or, you might as well enjoy it.
Everything hasn’t been roses and glory, though. Admittedly, I’ve become much more inward (solipsistic, trending towards selfishness) and isolated. This isn’t the right path either.
We’ll see where the ledger balances out. Viva la Mexico!
Feature photo of La Peña de Bernal. Source: pixabay
James Stewart is one of the most recognizable faces of Nova Scotia. As the official town crier of New Glasgow, he is part presenter, part historian, and part global ambassador. He’s also the man that delivers Boston’s Christmas tree most years. In this interview, we talk with James about what it’s like to be one of only 400 town criers in the world.
The hand bell explodes with the deafening vigor of a fire truck siren at 2am. It’s piercing ring fills the ear, shakes the head, and shatters the silence of the small municipal room in the town hall of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. We are seated in a semi-circle like school children during show and tell.
“Oyez!,” bellows a man in a tricorne hat; It comes out elongated, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh yaaaaaAAAYYYY!” The bell clangs four more times (I count), followed by another, “Oyez!”
The producer of boisterous noises is garbed in 19th century Glasgow Tartan regalia, and the glint in his eye indicates that he enjoys the ruse. He unrolls a scroll and begins bellowing his Cry: “My lords and ladies, boys and girls, I welcome you to the township of New Glasgow.” His voice carries depth and reverberation. We settle in for the show.
James Stewart is one of the most recognizable faces of Nova Scotia. As the official town crier of New Glasgow he is part presenter, part historian, and part global ambassador. He’s won numerous awards in world town crier competitions. Aged 64 years old, he’s a burly man with a ruddy face that accentuates his snow white beard. He has been the crier for 27 years, and one wonders if he is only getting better with age.
Stewart accompanies Boston’s Christmas tree most years, the big one you see in The Common, which comes compliments of our neighbors up north.
Why is that? On Dec. 6, 1917, catastrophe struck Halifax and Boston helped in the aftermath.
Here’s what happened: The French ship, the SS Mont-Blanc, was preparing to exit the harbor to carry high explosives needed for the war overseas. But it didn’t make it very far. The cargo ship collided with the Norwegian vessel, the SS Imo, precipitating the largest man-made explosion at the time.
Approximately 2,000 people were killed by the blast, fires or collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured. One of the main culprits of injury was high-velocity glass shards ripping through the air leading to eye trauma. Roughly 5,900 eye injuries were reported. (The Canadian National Institute for the Blind would go on to become internationally recognized as an important center for eye-injury research and rehabilitation.)
Nowadays, Halifax, and Nova Scotia as a whole, sends Boston a locally grown spruce as a way to commemorate the support and to spread good tiding from the annals of history. Each year, around this time, a ceremony on the Boston Common welcomes the delivery. Alongside the commanding tree, chaperoning Dave, the truck driver, is, you’ve guessed it, James Stewart, town crier of New Glasgow.
If you’ve attended the event before, you may have noticed James as the man wearing a kilt and Inverness cape in winter. He’s the one who opens the spectacle. This year, he will be delivering the tree on Tuesday, Nov. 19, and you can be certain he’ll be presenting it with a loud crash and a Cry.
I chatted with James to find out, well, why he’s a town crier, and like the hokey-pokey, what it’s all about.
Aaron: Let’s start with the basics: What is a town crier?
James: Traditionally, criers were one of the few people who could read, which allowed them to translate cables, announcements, etc. and share it with the public.
They were like the earliest form of public broadcasting.
How did you first find out about town criers?
I’m the second town crier in New Glasgow. The first was Ian Cameron. I wear his cape, the same tricorne hat.
He was the crier from 1988-1992, then he decided he would retire. There was an article in the local paper stating the town was looking for a new crier. My wife read it.
At that time we were doing a lot of community theater, dinner theater, drama festivals. Very busy in the theatrical community.
She came to me and says, “Oh New Glasgow is looking for a town crier. You should do it, you’d be good at it. If you don’t, I’ll kick your butt.”
So I drafted a letter (because that’s what we did in those days), then a month later I got a call. They asked if I could do a cry in front of a committee. “When?,” I asked. “How about in 20 minutes?,” they said. I had to throw together a costume, a cry and present in 20 minutes. This was in 1992.
How did you prepare for the role?
Every time I do a proclamation it is like theater. But, I was a crier for four or five years before I started to learn how to do it properly.
[In the beginning I was] very much like a singer that sings from their throat. A trained singer sings from their diaphragm. It took me going to competitions and watching other town criers, and seeing what they did, learning by watching, and experimenting [to get the hang of it].
What opened my eyes was a competition in Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. It was the North American Town Crier Championship, and it was MC’d by Robin Leach, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
It warranted being written up in one of the airline mags. Delta, maybe. I saw it on the plane on the way there.
That was when I saw Francis Taylor Slate, from Alexandria, VA, 80 years old, still crying. At that time I was in my 30s. I thought to myself, “Is this something you just do for the rest of your life?”
This was the first introduction to criers who were really, really good at what they did. I didn’t place anywhere near the top. I don’t even know where I finished (they only told you who the top 10 were).
Next year, at an event held in Hamilton, Ontario. I came in 5th. Then at the the World Championship in Sidney, BC, with 100 town criers from around the world, I came in 15th.
Every time I go to a competition I observe and learn. I’m still learning.
What is it like to be part of the town crier “fraternity” (using this term loosely)?
It’s a very social thing. There are only about 400 town criers in the world.
Odds are pretty good if I’m in another city, and someone says, “Oh, we have a town crier in our town,” about 50% of the time I know them or know of them.
When I gave my first proclamation, which was on June 30th, 1992, there were two other town criers in area, from Trenton and Westville [Nova Scotia]. Still are. They were welcoming of me to the fold.
What are competitions like? What are the events?
Generally, they give you a list of topics for a 3-day competition. One day is your town cry (I’ve been doing this [same] one for years), and there are other topics, usually related to the area.
In Bermuda, for example, they might choose a bird, or something native to the island:
When the island was first founded, one of the first ships had pigs or hogs, as they were called then. They went forth and multiplied. Or a bird that is native, called the cahow. It has a weird cry that almost sounds like someone screaming. Bermuda was called “the island of devils” because of the sound the birds would make. [These are things I might incorporate into my cry.]
For grading, you are judged on clarity, volume, content, poise, etc. Your voice needs inflection, to be “listenable.”
How do you research your proclamations for competition?
It depends on the topic.
In respect to the tree for Boston, there’s so much documented history. But, sometimes you just can’t find information.
Last year, at the Nova Scotia Championship, it was held at a seaside community and we had to write a cry about “women in the age of sail.” I ended up writing about how frustrated I was trying to write this. But I had absolutely nothing about the topic itself [just how hard it was to find information].
Here’s a story: The Founder of Bermuda, when he died, they put him in a rum barrel and pickled him. That’s how they sent him back to England. I used that for a cry.
…I’m a trivia buff. I enjoy telling stories.
How did you form your costume?
Some of the stuff I have was from a short-lived project, the Historic Costume Co-op. I don’t always wear a kilt, I do have britches. But I probably only wear those 2-3 times per year. The kilt is so comfortable, and it matches my cape.
The kilt was made locally by MacIsaac Kiltmakers. My other cape was made by the Historic Costume Co-op.
When they made the original cape, the design was called an Inverness Cape, or a coachman’s cape, from the 1780s. That’s basically the period when New Glasgow was first founded.
The joke I made in England [during a recent competition]—over the two days they gave out awards for best dressed, I won both of them—“I’ve been trying to get a new uniform for years, and this won’t help at all!”
My cape is 31 years old, same as the hat.
Have you made any additions to the kit?
When I got the original uniform [with britches], it was all velvet. Rarely wore them because they didn’t have any pockets. I went right to the kilt off the bat because I had one.
I’d love to get a uniform that was similar but a different color. Perhaps in Nova Scotia’s colors.
One guy in Ottawa has 26 uniforms. When you go into competition against that, you go, “There goes the best dressed!” He travels with 2-3 uniforms, and his partner is dressed in a matching set.
What is it like to present the tree to Boston?
It’s special. I think, “How lucky I am to be the person to deliver it to Boston?”
Every time I go down, I hand out hats from the province. Last year, I was staying at the Omni House and shared Nova Scotia touks (Editor’s note: A knitted winter hat popular in Canada) with the staff outside. I usually have a lot of pins from Nova Scotia and New Glasgow and give them out as well.
When I put on my uniform and do a walkabout, to the Common, let’s say, I get approached quite a bit. One time, I went to Macy’s to buy a bottle of perfume. The lady behind the counter goes, “well aren’t you the cutest little Paul Revere-Santa Claus I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Where does the tree come from?
The tree this year is coming from Chance Harbor in Pictou county, outside New Glasgow.
Where I’m sitting right now (Editor’s note: He was calling from his home), is in Chance Harbor, where I grew up. My dad had a place down here. When I was born, I was taken from the hospital and the first place I went was Chance Harbor. The tree, like me, is from here.
I’ve lived in New Glasgow nearly my whole live, but spent the first 25 summers in Chance Harbor. I built a place here in 2013.
I am actually two km from where the tree is. If I were to walk, it would take about 15-20 minutes to get there.
Is history important to you?
When I travel, maybe people know about the Halifax Explosion and maybe they don’t. We take it for granted that it’s something that everybody knows about [here in Nova Scotia].
In England, I toured two museums, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester. Didn’t see anything about the Halifax Explosion. I did see a few things about Nova Scotia, but nothing about the explosion. There was a made-for-TV movie about 15 years ago, but never a major motion picture.
It’s a really well known secret. And it’s something I get to help educate people about.
You’ve been doing this for 27 years, do you see yourself doing this much longer?
As long as I can continue to do it well, and not embarrass myself. I’m a firm believer that one should know when it’s time to quit.
Maybe I’ll continue to my 70s or 80s? As long as my voice holds up.
I’ve talked with the town about secession planning.
I see the value in it when I see the look on people’s faces when I interact with them. The majority of time it’s approval and warmth. When I’m dressed the way I am, people feel I’m very approachable.
It’s funny, when I’m in Boston, they think I’m a tour guide. They are always asking me for directions.
Screeching trees and silent birds. Wind gusts blot out all beyond the chatter in my head. I am a cone cut off by walls of thrashing air. We are a skipper within a rushing sea, we are pods against the current, we are looking down on the world. Eyes watering.
For the next hour my ears ring with an acquired tinnitus. Emergency radio broadcast signal or post-concert hum. Chili at 10:40 and a muffin with “blueberry filling.”
“I’m tired.” “Oh me too. “Do you have to walk back down?” “No.” “Lucky.”
I lunch at a table with a view out the window that shows sky but censors everything below the sill: undulating mountains, rolling silhouettes that fade from deep blues to whites as they drift away and fall off the edge of the earth. I can’t see them but I can sketch the angular pop outs from the contours I traced with my legs on the hike up. Families gather by the glass to snap photos.
Today it’s just me and travel, me and conquest, me and stringy cheese catching in my beard. I dab my face with a paper napkin after each bite.
The air inside is stuffy and cold like a dirt cellar. I want to bounce but my body has captured the mind and I fade from the room daydreaming of sleep.
I take my time. The passing of the clock means little beyond accumulated fatigue, or recovery in this instance. There’s no dark to beat back, no deadlines.
On the way down an older gentleman in a yellow wind jacket is battered about in the gales. He teeters on each landing, catches himself and readies for the off-balance maneuvering of the next step. He reminds me of a circus clown on stilts performing an exaggerated expectant tumble. He lets me pass.
Mounds as distance markers, wind as companion, clouds as serpents slithering over crests and shadow monsters crawling on the granitic carpet. A free market landscape of vastness and motion.
I wonder, what if I moved the world back with each step instead of pushing myself forward over its surface? How would that change things, to know you remained in place? It’s not that different than the lived experience, I decide, to feel as if everything revolves around your center of gravity.
Instead, what if you could experience the world barreling through space, or rotating on its axis? Would you feel enlarged, battered, guided by outside forces?
I’ve also heard walking described as controlled falling.
Descending uphill, I see dots in the distance that become human presence. Approach, smile, pass, approach, smile, pass. Each is a sample of tenderness or grief or tension or levity. How are there so many emotions on the trail?
An old man in a green AMC shirt works the lodge with a gaggle of a younger generation who giggle lots, fall into summer flings, and play pop music loudly from the kitchen.
The younger male attendant gives cleaning orders to the predominantly female staff, which consists of soapy water on floor for mopping and is met with gaiety in fulfillment. He moves to the window overlooking the west side of the ridge, a friendly companion sliding up on his right as they gaze out and talk of yesterdays ascent. They sneak intimacy in public view. She kissed him by the bathroom door, out of sight. I wonder what the old man does for companionship.
I wasn’t going for style points today, or hygiene; I’m hoping the clean boxers and shorts mask the day old damp and miasma that comes from climbing and no shower.
Some couples have full on matching dead bird kits: raging red, athletic cut, sunglasses atop head, uniformed to showcase they are on the same team. We talk about the wind.
No Everest lines here, but plenty of eager train-goers who paid the price of admission for a summit push and mob the sign declaring top. “You should let someone who earned this view through brawn take a picture,” I think to myself.
They are accustomed to standing on an escalator for their chance at cherry pie, elbowing about for a shot, of what I wonder? What does getting to the peak of a mountain under mechanical means mean to someone of able body? “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” and other such silly messages we display.
Mostly I’m annoyed that people push through while I wait my turn, then take so long for photos commemorating a cheap thrill. It’s a bit like a trophy for showing up, or paying your way into Harvard.
But maybe that’s because I relish in movement, of covering distance on my own accord, of seeing where you end up under motive power. The journey is me, the reward is my own. If I just wanted fast kicks I’d go to an amusement park. Oh curmudgeonly me…
The drive home is a route I’m getting accustomed to. Weekends at Rumney: climbing up then down, careening up then down, emotions up then down.”
Some people say they get depressed after sending a big project, “post-send blues” they call it. It’s a low after a long, hard push: of achievement and the release of emotional toil. These goals become a driving force in their life. Once achieved, there’s an overriding sense of not knowing what’s next, of what you are, and why you exist, to some extent. Mountaineers who spend 3-5 months in the Himalayas talk about re-entry to home life with similar complexity.
I don’t experience this, but I have a micro-lull come Monday. The come down is like withdrawal, I imagine.
Partly I feel utterly free on a good day of climbing. All concerns vanish and I wade in an ocean of unconcern until I get back. Climbing helps me reset and recalibrate. It’s a step back that let’s me see things with clear eyes, like emptying the cache in your browser and not getting guided suggestions on your every query. The history vanishes and you can attune yourself to what’s important now.