Halfway Through

If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.

– Lewis Carroll

I’m about halfway through my time here on Cat Ba and it has been a quite a ride so far. The work continues to throw up interesting challenges daily and there is continual staffing shifts which changes the dynamic of the group frequently. As July approaches I become more and more acutely aware that a decision on what I want to do after will have to be made soon. A friend/colleague introduced me to the quote above a couple of days ago which really stuck with me. There’s been so much anxiety over picking THE thing I need to be doing next but there’s no grounding for it. I have no aim and no real preference for what I want to do so there’s no need for the anxiety.

Cat Ba is an interesting mix of environments. The town itself is a horrible over packed seaside town which the Vietnamese come to invade during June and July. But going out into Lan Ha Bay for work provides some sort reprieve from the hustle and bustle that is this neon town. It’s a funny lifestyle living here as an adventure guide. Going out onto the bay for work and escaping deep into the island on days off to climb. We work and play as a unit which makes it all very intense, particularly if you strike up a romantic relationship with someone or have a disagreement with another.

I love driving out of Cat Ba Town; I even own a scooter now. My first moving vehicle! Heading out from the busy town onto quieter roads always feels a bit cathartic, especially when you’re turning up the gas so that you pelt along at some speeds.

I’m interested to see what the next half of my time here will bring. If it brings anymore clarity to my future plans, that would be most welcome.

Indonesia: Water, green and wilderness

That will be my memory of Indonesia. In the not-quite three weeks we were there, we ended up splitting the time between Nusa Lembongan, Labuan Bajo/Komodo and Bali. What we saw was beautiful.

Despite being quite touristy in some places, there are still lots of wilderness around, particularly underwater. The diving here is phenomenal and definitely some of the best that I’ve experienced. The variety and size of coral and fish in Komodo was astounding. It was easy to feel dwarfed by the monstrously sized marine creatures swimming in those waters. We were lucky enough to come across a lot of mantas at a dive site called Mawan. These mantas were easily 5m wide and much bigger than the ones we saw at Nusa Penida. They are amazing, just so graceful and calm as they swim playfully past you.

I was a bit sceptical about spending too much time on Bali knowing how popular with tourists it is. We spent a couple of days in Amed, which had a great relaxed pace. It was fun to hire scooters and zip around seeing the beautiful coastal scenery.

Here we also got to see an example of a freediver, Joan Capdevila, in action. Snorkeling at the Japanese Wreck, he manages to dive down and stay to inspect the wreck in detail for three, four minutes at a time with ease. It was mind boggling enough to see that knowing he is managing it all with one single breathe. To then extend that thought to trying to comprehend his deep dives to the depths of 70/80m is something my brain instinctively shuts down. It’s amazing what human beings can achieve and it’s another stark reminder that our biggest limitations are the mental walls which we box ourselves into. I doubt that freediving is something that I will be pursuing obsessively any time soon, but the learnings are just as applicable to my love of climbing.

After Amed, I spent our last few days in Canggu. Going from sleepy Amed to Canggu was a bit overwhelming initially. The traffic for one, is much more intense. But Canggu is pretty cool. Kind of like Hipsters on Holiday vibes. Surfers and skaters revel here as do digital nomads. The main streets are decorated with shiny shops, shiny cafes and shiny signs. As much I liked the pseudo westernised environment to soothe my cravings for home comforts, the place still has too much of a sheen for me to feel completely comfortable. It was also nice to see the rice paddies that still existed just off the main streets, but also sobering to consider that they will probably no longer exist in a decade or so to make way for more perfectly curated shops and cafes.

Indonesia has been an interesting experience. Personally, it threw up a lot of questions about what I want to do with my life, particularly after I call it quits with travelling (the number one reason why anyone travels right?). But the country is beautiful, and I would love to revisit to explore more.

Indonesia So Far: Lembongan, Bali

It’s been an eventful week and a bit since we arrived in Indonesia. When we first arrived, I have to admit I really wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy my time here. The idea of being somewhere where it was the Australia’s answer to Benidorm really didn’t seem appealing to me. I also wasn’t quite ready to be back amongst the normal holidaymakers having been amongst climbers for nearly a month.

We stayed in Sanur for two nights whilst we waited for my dad to join us for a week. Unless you are heading to catch a ferry, I would avoid Sanur. There’s nothing outstanding about it and it’s festering with locals who pester you to offer their services. Once we landed on Nusa Lembongan, it got much better with the island providing a much more relaxed atmosphere. We originally booked for four nights and ended up staying seven as Ed wanted to do his advanced course as well as his open water. The island (and the neighbouring two islands) are beautiful and are so good for watersports. If you like diving, surfing or just beaches under a blazing sun, this is the place to go.

The islands are stunning, I would highly recommend renting a scooter to explore the island as well as crossing over to the smaller but no less spectacular Cennigan. Although I would not recommend what my dad did which is drive his scooter off the edge of a 2.5m drop… If you do have any mishaps, the East Medical Centre on Lembongan is very good. The treatment rooms are clean, they have good equipment and it’s sterile. Luckily my dad only escaped with scrapes and the need for a couple of stitches for a particularly bad cut. Do take care! Some of the roads on Cennigan are particularly steep and in bad condition and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Having already done my Advanced PADI, I spent my days mainly surfing and doing admin bits. I’m a complete noob at surfing so it was quite amusing to take on the beginner surf lessons with Thabu Surfing and get absolutely spanked by the waves. The lessons were really good and in my last session I could stand up on most of the waves I caught. At 450k IDR a lesson it’s almost worth doing the lesson just to catch Thabu and his instructors catch waves themselves. The names for the surf spots did make me chuckle though, they were Razors, Lacerations and Playground with the last one being the least friendly so I’m told.

The highlight of our stay on Lembongan was definitely the day of fun dives I did. We went out with Blue Corner Diving who were super great from day one. I saved my day of fun diving for a day with less swell so we could go out to Manta Point. We went out early at 8am and saw dolphins playing in the water as the boat left the reef. The boat trip was fantastic to showcase the beauty of the Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Cennigan and Nusa Penida. We arrived at Manta Point being one of the first boats there and got in the water without delay. Within less than a minute of descending, we saw mantas. Not just one, but about eight to ten of them all together feeding. Throughout the dive, every so often a manta would just zip past you nonchalantly, it did not get old! Considering they were between 3-5m wide, it was definitely a little intimidating at first! What a thrilling first dive of the day. After that we dived at Crystal Bay where I finally saw my first turtle and then at Sen Tal where I had my first proper experience of drift diving. It was a fantastic day.

El Nido and Nacpan

Having to play catch up a bit now as we’ve been so busy I’ve had very little down time to write.

El Nido was spoken quite highly by quite a few people we’ve met on our travels so far. But having now been there and other places, I would say it’s on its way to being too touristy. The town is very small, the main centre consists of two parallel streets and one perpendicular one. Even whilst we were there we saw so many construction sites as they build more accommodation to meet demand (book in advance if you’re going in peak season as it does book up very quickly). There is not much of an actual beach to relax on in El Nido, the beach there is mainly used as a mooring site for island hopping boats and not that pleasant for relaxing on. The town itself is probably 99% tourist driven. Most buildings here fell into one of the following: restaurant, bar, travel agency or accommodation. Although traditional Filipino cuisine is not really all that memorable (in my humble opinion), it doesn’t justify the copious amounts of Italian and Mexican restaurants in the centre. As with my rant about Thailand being too touristy, I think El Nido is definitely heading towards that direction.

The island tours are good, we did A and C (out of A to D) and thought A was the better one with the lagoons we went to and the option to hire kayaks to explore these with. The lunch on these tours were definitely a highlight. A simple grilled lunch of pork, fish, seafood (squid, mussels or shrimp), rice and fruit prepared by the crew on board. I’m salivating at the memory. The Philippines are beautiful and the boat tours only provided more evidence of this by showing you white beaches with intense blue skies and sunshine as well as turquoise lagoons that are bordered by sharp, jagged grey stone rising impressively out of the water. With over 7,000 islands, you are not short of stunning scenery here.

In terms of price, El Nido was much more expensive compared with Thailand. That’s not to say it was expensive, you could have a decent meal out for about 300 pisos (about £4) but obviously when you compare with Thailand where accommodation and street food are much more in abundance it is definitely a marked difference.

One place that we really enjoyed going to was Nacpan beach. It’s a gorgeous long white sand beach that lies 16km up the coast from El Nido. You can get shuttles up there 350php one way or 600php return. We stayed up there for one night and would definitely recommend it. It’s currently 5km of a quiet beach but in future will definitely be developed into a tourist hotspot.

We enjoyed our stay in El Nido but definitely looking forward to Coron.

End of the First Leg

Currently sitting on the boat to Koh Tao having left Tonsai this morning. It was probably a good time to leave as there were numerous cases of Tonsai tummy (myself included) and, more worryingly, Dengue fever cropping up.

It was my first time doing such a long climbing trip and it was really good but I don’t think I was prepared for quite how mentally tiring it would be. Majority of the visitors to Tonsai will be there for climbing, most casual holidaymakers would choose Rai Lei which makes sense – the sand is nicer and there are more resorts. But it does mean that it is nigh on impossible to escape the climbing talk save from locking yourself in your room.

But that is the main complaint (which really isn’t much of a complaint really) I have. I very much enjoyed my two weeks staying and climbing in Tonsai. I definitely felt like I made a lot of progress on the trip having managed to redpoint Stalagasaurus (6c+) on my fourth time up on the wall. My goal of 7a is definitely achievable. The most important thing I have gained is thinking I’m capable of it.

If you’re going for a short time or have a little more money, I would certainly recommend staying at Dream Valley Resort. It’s a bit more luxurious than the non air conned cinder block rooms at the other places but still very affordable by western standards (I think we paid £32 per night, sharing between two). When you’re putting yourself through the heat and humidity of being at the crag and climbing all day, it was definitely a relief to be able to get back to a comfy hotel room that offered WiFi and air con. In Tonsai this seems far and few between.

Favourite dish was definitely the noodle soup with big noodles at Andamans. Super moreish but also really good food for when you have a dodgy tummy. I would definitely taking precautions for in case you get the infamous Tonsai tummy.

So anyway. That’s Tonsai done for now with plenty of progress and also projects for future. Onwards to diving in Koh Tao!

2nd Rest Day Update

So at the end of rest day number 2, I haven’t quite managed to finish Stalagasaurus clean yet although I feel better today than I did when I pumped out yesterday. It’s such a big mental game. The height, the gradient, the possibility of success, the potential of falling… It’s all factors that intimidate me. But I know all it takes is just to keep pushing through until you get used to the height, the gradient and the falling. The possibility of success… Well, that’s not something to fear but I do come across it every so often. The slight hesitation of “if I finish this, then what next?”. It sounds silly, but I hope I’m not the only one who gets it.

Rationally I know I am physically capable of redpointing the climb. I’ve done all the moves separately with absolutely no trouble – three times in fact. It’s just stringing it all together and not over gripping. Sport climbing is still such a new ballgame to me but I’m as impatient as a toddler who’s just learnt to walk. I want to get better, I want to push my grade. These will be the thoughts I need to hold onto when the pump is on and I’m battling to finish my project.

My first attempt on Stalagasaurus