BabyM first experienced swimming at 9 months old in Seattle in August. M and I carried him into the pool and he looked around bewildered. Within a few minutes he got a bit cold so BabyM and I curled up in towels near the pool. That’s when M decided it was time to dive in on the other side of the pool and swam towards us. Screaming and crying insued and would not be calmed until we were safely inside. For two weeks afterwards BabyM hated bath time and anything else involving water. However, he had to endure us picnicking by the pool, and watching his older cousins play in the pool. Finally he stuck his feet in a puddle of water next to the pool and plopped down splashing and giggling.
Don’t take me out of the puddle!
Can we go swimming?
The next time we took him into the pool was at twilight with the pool lights on. He was calm as he took it all in, splashed a bit and decided pools were okay. After that he wanted to be in the pool any time we were close to it!
We attended three baby swimming classes with BabyM while we were in Germany in September. Since BabyM enjoyed swimming so much we were eager to get him back in the water. While I expected any chance to play with him in the pool to be fun, I was surprised at how much I learned in the classes! The basic premise is that you can teach young babies how to float on their backs and how to roll onto their backs if anything should happen. During the lessons the babies are exposed to different water scenarios; getting splashed, floating, rolling onto their backs and even diving. Even more exciting was that after the 45 minute classes, BabyM would sleep for longer stretches at night!
We visited a friend who had a baby pool set up in their backyard and realized we needed to get BabyM a pool of his own. The more time we can splash the better! Of course, that pool is now being used as a toy box in our Airbnb in Lisbon.
Baby pool or toy box?
We tried to take BabyM on a walk along the Pacific Ocean at Redondo beach in February but he complained about the wind so he barely even glimpsed the ocean before we left. A week later we wandered along the beach in La Jolla where it was less windy and he slept most of the way. However, the first time we brought him to the Ocean with the intention of going into the water was in Portugal when he was just under 11 months old.
Running after waves in the sand is exhausting!
As usual, first the beach was terrifying for BabyM. Then he took a nap and had a snack and all of a sudden the sand was interesting enough to distract him from his fears. Before long he was watching a boy about a year older playing with a toy cement truck at the waters edge. Then BabyM found his own feet in the water as the waves crashed onto the beach, and just like that he forgot to be scared.
Day 179: Kite surfer off the coast of Essaouira, Morocco.
Day 180: Donkey and new buildings between Essaouira and Marrakech, Morocco.
Day 181: Storks on the roof of the royal palace in Marrakech, Morocco.
Day 182: Sheep! (In Germany….)
Day 183: Snowy first night in Berlin.
Day 184: Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
Day 185: On the way to watch the Superbowl in an American sports bar in Berlin.
Day 172: Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakesh in the evening.
Day 173: View from the old city of Ait Benhaddou near Quarzazate.
Day 174: Inside a Berber tent in the Sahara desert.
Day 175: The Sahara desert near Merzouga.
Day 176: Sunset at the Essaouira harbor.
Day 177: Soccer players and wind turbines at the coast near Essaouira.
Day 178: Camels at the beach near Essaouira.
Day 137: Climbing Gym in Palma de Mallorca.
Day 138: Catedral de Mallorca.
Day 139: Cap Formentor.
Day 140: Es Camp de Mar.
Day 141: Rhein valley near Karlsruhe.
Day 142: The Mummelsee in the Black Forest.
Day 143: Candles on the German Christmas Wreath.
Day 123: Sunset at Gasworks park, Seattle.
Day 124: Seattle downtown and ferris wheel at night.
Day 125: Mt Rainier from above.
Day 126: Wooden animal puzzles from Vietnam.
Day 127: Sunset in Miami.
Day 128: Birds running from the waves at Sunny Isles Beach.
Day129: Lizard playing on the treehouse.
I couldn’t feel my fingers. They were just too cold. I looked at how they were fitting into the pocket of the rock face that I was slowly moving up, trusted the grip and pulled myself up. I had started climbing a few months earlier and this was my first lead climb. This was in southern California and I wasn’t supposed to have to deal with cold! Except that it was early December and we were climbing at 7000 feet elevation close to Big Bear Lakes (Holcomb Valley Pinnacles -HVP). This was my favorite climbing area and one of my favorite climbs. It seems that for many climbers, including myself, the spot where they climb outside for the first time stays their favorite one. With all the great climbing places in California and Utah I was able to add many more to my list of best crags. None ever threatened to push HVP from the throne. However, that was before we went climbing on Raileh.
Some of our friends had raved to us about the climbing in southern Thailand, especially on Raileh and Tonsai Beach. This resulted in us going back and forth about what kind of climbing gear we should take along on our trip. If we wanted to do some serious climbing we should bring our own gear. You can’t climb near your limit when the tiny voice in your head is wondering how many falls the rental rope might have already taken. But even just taking the basic equipment would add another bag that we would have to haul around with us. We had a long debate that included the options of sending things by mail or leaving them with friends in Bangkok. In the end we decided to only take our climbing shoes along and to just see what the rental places would be like.
The islands in Southern Thailand are made out of rock formations like the one in this picture.
Already on Kho Phi Phi I was fascinated with the large rock faces that seemed to come straight out of the water. But these cliffs had nothing on the walls we found on Raileh. Giant stalactites were growing out of the roofs on these walls and little stalagmites were forming on the ground in some places. I expected the rock to be wet and slippery and was pleasantly surprised when it felt rough and had lots of grip. There was no question that these rock formations needed to be climbed. After checking out a few climbing shops and talking to the people working there, we decided to hire a guide for an afternoon. I felt lame hiring a guide but in retrospect I’m very happy that we did. He tested at which level we were climbing and took us straight to the best routes for us. This way we got to do many more climbs than had we gone by ourselves. We also didn’t have to worry about routes with non-titanium bolts that corrode quickly in this climate and of which there are still a few around.
Climbers at Raileh’s West Beach.
Anchors dangling at the end of a long roof off the beach at Tonsai.
One of the most amazing climbs was going up a stalactite. To start you had to jump to the first hold and climb over a little ledge at the base of the giant structure. From there, numerous positive holds on the face and cracks between the small stalactites that sit on top of the big structure made for very entertaining climbing. On a second long route the guide and J convinced me to take the camera along. Again it was nice to have somebody along who knew the climbs and could judge if it was reasonable for me to take a camera up with me or if the likelihood of falling was too high. I was still reluctant to take the camera along but (of course) the other two were right and it was an easy enough climb.
J at the base of the large stalactite.
Look down on to Raileh Beach at low tide.
Half a day of climbing was all it took to completely exhaust us since we are both not in the best shape at the moment. We had a great time and it felt good to be worn out. Raileh is definitely one of the best places I have climbed. It is definitely a better climbing spot than HVP when judged objectively. However, I have too many good memories attached to HVP and it is still my favorite crag. So it seems like my theory holds up so far. But I’ll keep trying new spots in order to test it more!
Day 88: Fishing boats close to Mui Ne.
Day 89: Dinner waiting to be served in Mui Ne.
Day 90: Da Lat before the rain.
Day 91: Greenhouses at the outskirts of Da Lat.
Day 93: Vietnamese flag at Nah Trang beach.
Day 93: Coconut harvest at the beach in Nah Trang.
Day 94: Hoi An market place in the morning.
“What do you mean ‘it stretches your forearms’?!” asked my bewildered yoga teacher. He had been working with me in vain for days trying to get me to perform the yoga pose in a way that was useful and wouldn’t injure me with repetition. Apparently “downward facing dog” is supposed to be a hamstring stretch. The only modified pose that both my yoga teacher and I could agree on was most certainly a forearm stretch.
Yoga studio on the beach.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the worst physical condition of my life. One of my goals for taking time off from work and traveling was to regain some sort of health in my life through eating healthier food and exercising more. What I hadn’t fully appreciated, until this moment, was how poor your health could get by simply sitting in front of a computer for hours upon hours a day for weeks on end. One consequence of typing (and presumably climbing regularly, however far in the past), apparently, is that your forearms become the tightest muscles in your body. It also results in some humorous failures at performing what I’ve been told are basic yoga poses.
I spent six days and five nights in Paradise as part of a 10 class yoga retreat while M was at his interview. Luckily, they were offering some serious discounts due to it being the rainy season. I wasn’t concerned about the rain in the slightest since we hadn’t had any trouble with the rainy season so far. In fact, we had some of the best diving conditions in any season according to the diving guides on Koh Phi Phi! However, my luck was about to change. I arrived at the dock for the boat in the heaviest downpour I had seen on our trip. I hurried from the taxi to the small shelter to buy my ticket to the island. To my great surprise, I only had to wait 10 minutes before boarding a “speed boat” to the island.
Pouring rain on the speed boat from the mainland to Koh Yao Noi.
While the boat may have been an oversized speed boat, it didn’t move particularly fast. It also wasn’t particularly dry as there was water coming in everywhere through the seams of the plastic surrounding the seating area. After a damp two-hour boat ride I arrived at the pier on Koh Yao Noi. As usual, finding a taxi was easy. Unlike usual, there would be no bargaining with the taxi drivers to bring the price of the ride across the island down, and I soon found out why. It was still pouring as the taxi left the paved road and we started weaving through the juggle. The dirt road we were now on frequently resembled a stream bed as water rushed downhill. We drove past rubber tree plantations, and slid down muddy and wet roads with incredible skill on my driver’s part. We finally reached Paradise, where, as the name rainy season suggests, it was still raining.
Even with the rain it was easy to see that the resort was beautiful. I was thrilled, if only for the simple reason that the shower and toilet were separate! In most of the bathrooms of the cheap guesthouses and hostels where we had been staying, there weren’t any shower curtains, and the shower would inevitably make everything else within the bathroom wet. Not only were the shower and toilet separate but there was also a Jacuzzi in my bathroom! Paradise indeed!
Beautiful beach and rocks when the rain stopped!
During my first few yoga classes I was the only student, allowing significant time with the instructor to attempt to work on my posture. After the first few classes, a couple more people joined, and it felt more like the retreat that I had expected. While I had high hopes of becoming an expert yogi by the end of the retreat, my biggest success was to finally touch my toes. Since I was doing yoga twice a day, the days quickly passed, and I soon found myself on a boat back to the mainland of Krabi, where I was to meet up with M after his interview.
Boatride leaving Koh Yao Noi.
When planning a trip I usually dream about all the beautiful places, interesting people, fascinating cultures and exotic dishes that I’ll encounter along the way. I know that travelling can be hard and places disappointing but those thoughts barely come up during the planning stages of a trip. And most of the time these things are minor. You find yourself on the tourist bus, which takes longer and stops at all kinds of stores and restaurants but still gets you to where you want to go eventually. The hostel you booked for the first night in a new place turns out to be a mess and you have to find a new one the next day. All of these little things don’t really matter and make for good stories. The point in time when these stories become funny seems to be correlated to the frustration of the event, i.e. the more it sucks the longer it will take until you can laugh about it. I’m curious when we’ll be able to laugh about our visit to Malaysia.
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur.
The idea was to fly to Kuala Lumpur when our Thailand visa expired and then make our way down to Singapore from where I had booked a flight to Zurich for the interview. The first surprise upon arrival was that most signs, advertisements and TV shows in Malaysia seemed to be in English. The whole infrastructure of streets, stores, electrical installations and plumbing seemed more sophisticated and comfortable than in Thailand. However, this didn’t transfer into feeling more comfortable. Instead the parts of Malaysia that I got to see couldn’t live up to the high expectations that Thailand had set. We explored Kuala Lumpur for a few days and then decided to go to Tioman Island. We had heard good things about northern Malaysia but we had to make our way towards Singapore and therefore decided to check out this beautiful island on the southeast coast of the country.
Palm tree plantations in Malaysia.
The trip started with a bus ride across the country which took us through endless palm tree plantations as Malaysia is the second largest producer of palm oil. This devastation of rainforest in exchange for mono-cultures didn’t improve my opinion of Malaysia. But at least we were not on the tourist bus. This meant that we only did one quick lunch stop and didn’t have to tour any gems and souvenir stores. Upon our arrival in Mersing, the port for Tioman, we were welcomed by a man who runs the local travel office which sells the tickets for the ferry to the island. This was quite the change compared to the troops of salesmen that we had encountered everywhere in Thailand. Apparently there was an accident a few years ago and this company is the only one that is still allowed to operate ferry rides to Tioman. The travel office is also affiliated with most of the hotels on the island and the man offered to also arrange our accommodation. It seemed like we were getting a great deal for the ferry and four nights in a bungalow. Just like the trip to Chiang Rai it turned out that what seems to be too good to be true usually isn’t true. I’m starting to see a pattern…
Boat cemetery in Mersing.
We got to the island when it was already dark and went on a search for our resort. When we finally opened the door to our little bungalow we were welcomed by a swarm of mosquitos. Luckily we were carrying a mosquito net with us. Even if we don’t need it again on this trip it was totally worth carrying it around with us. Unfortunately the bed had seen better and most likely cleaner days but our inlay sleeping bags made this bearable, too. We ended the day with a delicious curry dish that was recommended to us by the waiter with the words ‘this isn’t spicy’. It tasted very good but we double checked with him because for us who both like spicy food it was definitely on the spicy side. He just laughed and said that they give it to children.
Tioman Island is pretty from afar.
The next day we found out that the rest of the island wasn’t much cleaner than our bungalow and from there things went downhill fast. I got a fever, despite the mosquito net we still got plenty of bug bites and J got eaten by sand flies. Long story short we ditched the island after two nights and made a run for the border.
The diving around Tioman Island is supposed to be great. But the dive shops didn’t look inviting.
However this turned out to be more complicated than we imagined. As in many places in Southeast Asia the ferry that takes you from Tioman Island to Mersing is also timed such that it arrives after the last public transport option has departed. That usually leaves you with the options to take an overpriced cab or start looking for a room. We opted for the latter and managed to find a decent room as well as a tasty dinner. I was curious about the boar dishes on the menu but as expected this was just a way to sell pork in a country where most people are Muslims.
Local bus at the station in Mersing.
The next morning we got on a bus to Johor Bahru (JB) which is the town on the Malaysian side across the bridge from Singapore. This trip led us again through endless Palm Oil plantations but this time the road was much busier. Our bus had two drivers and not enough power for the overtaking maneuvers that they tried to pull off. This was compensated by honking at the trucks they were trying to overtake and followed by sometimes happy, sometimes angry discussions between the two.
But we made it to JB and got on another bus to the border. At the Malaysian side we had to get off the bus and clear customs. Then the same bus took us over to the Singapore side where we had to clear customs again. From there the bus took us into Singapore and all of a sudden people were using the lanes and leaving space in-between vehicles. At least the bus dropped us off at a tiny bus station without a map or any other way of orientation. Thus we knew that we were still in Asia. But one of the street signs sounded familiar and with the map that I had loaded on my computer we found the hostel quickly.
Day 53: Rocks!
Day 54: Ships outside of Singapore harbor.
Day 55: Construction site in Krabi.
Day 56: Tractor trailer to boat transition.
Day 57: Cooking M’s mango pancake.
Day 58: Top of the rock in Railay.
Day 59: Boat from Railay to Krabi, Thailand.