Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rio de Janeiro Part Dois (Two)

A Little Site-seeing and Adventure in Beautiful Rio

The last few days I have had the opportunity to see Rio from some unusual, fun and exciting perspectives. It's hard to imagine a poor view anywhere in the incredible landscape this city occupies, but I have really enjoyed experiencing some of them in ways I think many people might not have the opportunity to try.
Me at the top of the Sugarloaf with the Cable Car Mid-Point middle background and Corcovado way back.
On Monday I rock climbed both the Pão de Açucar or SugarLoaf as well as the Corcovado on the top of which sits Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer. This 30 meter statue is one of the most famous and recognizable icons in the world today. It is a huge symbol of Rio and although something like 1,300 people and hour visit it via tram or bus, few I think get to climb the side of the cliffs guarding its summit and cross the tourist barrier from outside in. You get some pretty interesting looks from the other tourists coming over the big railing onto the viewing platform while wearing climbing gear and dragging a rope. Ditto for the Sugarloaf, although for some reason it didn't seem as dramatic. I'll come back to the climbing a little later.
Next day Tuesday, I went hang-gliding ( voo livre in Portuguese ) at Pedro Bonita ramp inside the Tijuca Forest National Park. The meeting point is just down the coast at São Conrado and for some reason I couldn't get any taxi to take me there even after asking a half dozen. I had 3 guys at the front desk trying to help too, but my Portuguese is very limited as was their English. So I called the amazing Glauco who runs Megafly ( http://megafly.com.br ) and explained the situation. He set me up with a ride two other tourists were taking out there later from a Hostel called Walk on the Beach. One of the guys from the front desk walked me several blocks to ensure I found it okay and when I got there, the gal running the place gave me free coffee and a nice place to sit. I have to say that I have found this sort  of friendly generosity and kindness all over the place in Rio. The people here are just wonderful. So long story short, we three get there and ride up the mountain with Glauco.
Okay I know he is holding the bar and wearing the Instrutor t-shirt, but really I am at the controls... haha.

Above the beach at São Conrado
There was a nasty car accident on the very very steep final road leading to the summit ramp, so we all (many cars and flyers) wait while emergency services does their stuff. After a while we get to the summit and the views are spectacular from there and of course it's a frenzy of instructors assembling kites, going over flying instructions with clients etc. I have to wait an hour or so because I actually missed my original flight time so the couple I met went first. I actually loved the time up watching everyone take off and doing a little forest exploration in the vicinity. The jungle sounds were unique and cool (I got recordings) but what Really Really blew me away was seeing some incredibly beautiful giant blue butterflies that I think were Blue Morphos, but I'm not a Lepidopterist so not 100% sure. If you know me well, you know that butterflies and dragonflies hold special significance for me. This particular butterfly even more so for personal reasons. Anyway, to me it was an amazing sign from the Universe or Great Spirit  telling me something important and I was grateful for the timely message. Thank you.

When my time came, I didn't fly with Glauco, but Klaus, one of his other instructors. Klaus is very experienced and a great guy, but stands about 6'7'' (taking a guess) so he just towered over me. Take off is the riskiest part and in order to get airborne, you both have to do this sort of three-legged run down the ramp and off the cliff into space. You can imagine the two of us - Mutt and Jeff running along keeping synchronized with short and long legs like that. Pretty funny, but we did it right with only one practice run and the actual take-off went perfectly. Such an amazing feeling flying like that!!! I couldn't wipe the grin off my face all during the flight and for a long time afterwards. I mean the views when you are rock climbing are spectacular, but one side always has the rock or at least you hope so haha. But flying like this there are no walls and nothing to get in the way. Wonderful sensation!!

The flight only lasts about 15-20 minutes and it goes by like an eye blink. At the bottom, we all get fresh coconut water with a straw poked into the freshly trepanned coconut husk. Chilled and soooooo delicious. I had a little time so also got an Açai (pronounced Ahh-Sah-Eee as near as I can get it) Smoothie which my climbing Guide Andrew introduced me to on Monday during a snack between the 2 climbs. I am Hooked on these things!!! Thick and rich and eaten with a spoon. Roughly the color of reddish coffee and apparently pretty good for you, although anything that yummy must have about 45 million calories per spoonful.

Morning clouds rolling over the Pão de Açucar or Sugarloaf
So back to the climbing on Monday. I met my guide Andrew (from http://www.ancoraue.com ) just after sunrise at the base near where the Cable Car Station is. In fact the cables pass right above you for a good portion of the 5-6 pitch climb so you can wave at the tourists as they wave at you. First you have to take a pretty decent hike to the base of the actual climb. The rock is granite and the style is mostly steep friction on these little knobs and protrusions, but lot's of plain old smearing too. The rock is stickier than any other pure granite I have ever been on it it takes a while to believe your shoes will stick as well as they do on some of those holds. Sometimes it is a little like climbing in Tuolumne in Yosemite and sometimes a little like Squamish, but it's really pretty unique. The quality of the rock and the lines are fabulous though. Andrew was a wonderful guide and we got along great. Lots of fun and he's very knowledgeable.
Looking down from the Sugarloaf. You can see the Cable Car cables at the bottom of the picture
One of the few big ledges on the route where I could bust out the iPhone camera for pics

Looking down at the Cable Car Mid-Station
My little point and shoot camera wasn't working and I didn't find out until part way up the climb. Not sure what the problem is, but without a strap, I'm not about to take out my iPhone and snap photos in the middle of the climb. Just too much risk in dropping it so not much in the way of images from the climb itself sadly. Most belays were hanging but there were a couple of big ledges and I took out the iPhone on those for a very few pics on the routes. Strangely enough, I have had the same problem with the underwater camera I bought in Bali (not cheap either) and despite about 8 dives, I have only a handful of shitty quality images to show for it. Go figure. The iPhone has been a superstar though. We topped out near noon and had a soda and poke around the top while I took tourist pics.
Looking up at the Corcovado from Lagoa  Rodrigo de Freitas. Cristo Redentor at the top.
Looking down from the Corcovado route at the Lagoa  Rodrigo de Freitas
Then I hopped on the back of his motorcycle and we raced across the city to climb the Corcovado. The motorcycle ride was hands down the most heart pounding part of the day and truth be told most dangerous. Blazing up the steep cobblestone roads with old rail tracks waiting to catch a bike tire was thrilling indeed. We get to the base where the Tram and tour buses take people to the top and then hike across to the base of the climb. This route is 4 pitches since you start pretty far up the cliff face and both rock and technique are pretty similar. This one does start with some interesting lay-backing up a left-facing dihedral though. The views here are spectacular too and you can the Sugarloaf back across the city (the reverse of course is also true). We get to the top after some really fun climbing and pull over the railing onto the viewing platform....
OMG - if I thought the top of the Sugarloaf was busy and crowded, it's nothing.. nothing!.. compared to this small area! It's just a teeming ant farm of tourists up there. I suppose bringing 1,300 people an hour up there will do that though. It's later in afternoon the sun is right above the left shoulder of the Cristo Redentor's left shoulder (or right as you look at it.) It's beautiful and magnificent. At 30 meters tall with an 8 meter base, it is imposing and visible I think from most of Rio. One of the most famous icons on the planet so not surprising it would be busy up there though. It was nice to take a tour bus down though. If I had ever thought about taking a helicopter ride at sunset for pictures, this would be the place and the subject matter. Wow.
A couple of thoughts about the climbing on the Sugarloaf - it was very interesting to watch planes land and take at the Rio airport from above on their approach. It's a perspective you don't get very often. Also, when I first got here and was researching climbing guides, I also came in contact with a really good one and a good guy Gustavo from Rio Climbing Guides who I am still in touch with and who I would also highly recommend. You can find him at: http://www.rioclimbingguides.com.

It was a really fabulous day and I ended it tired, still and sore. My toes especially were giving me problems all day. ***Note to Self - do not do a climbing day this again then jump into an intense yoga practice the next day in a really really hot place like Rio. My friends Ananda and Charles have this beautiful yoga studio in Ipanema, the city next to Copacabana where I am staying and although they are currently traveling in India, they graciously arranged to let me sit in on a 2 hour practice next day. Their teachers were not only extremely good and talented, but also kind, generous and welcoming. Small group of advanced students who were also very nice and helpful. I am so grateful to Ananda and Charles for this opportunity. I wish I wasn't so tired from the previous day though it couldn't really be helped. I have never sweated so much in my whole life and struggled through some of the asanas, but at the end felt marvelous.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rio de Janeiro

First Days in Fab Rio de Janeiro...

Today is my birthday and I am spending it in the most marvelous city - Rio de Janeiro!! The only thing that would make it better is having family and friends here to share and celebrate with. Otherwise it's a pretty perfect place to be right now.
When I left Aqaba earlier this past week, I walked across the border from Jordan to Israel and then made my way to Tel Aviv. I was there for about a day and a half, so moved very fast to make my explorations before hopping on a plane to Rio with a change in Paris. Overnight and another pretty long day haha. I'm used to them by now though. I arrived in Rio very early Thursday January 16th, but couldn't check into the apartment I had rented for a week. The Manager Antonio met me first though and kindly offered to give me his office to clean up and sleep if I wanted. In the short time I have been here, I have found the people in Rio to be warm, generous and friendly. I Love this City!!!

I'm starting to think as a native North-westerner, I am dragging the rain along with me somehow and Rio was no exception. The day was gorgeous, hot and sunny, but by evening we were in the middle of a whopper Thunderstorm and pounding rain. I must be weird because I was totally loving it except at first the lightning was striking all over the same few blocks I was in so too close for taking pictures. Exciting though. Once it moved offshore a little, I followed it to the beach and stood in the rain taking pictures hoping to get something good with my iPhone. A DSLR and tripod would have been better, but because it was striking every few seconds, I did get a lucky few shots of the actual lightning bolts. It was awesome and apparently made the news back home even.


Anyway, I only took time to change and then set about getting a local SIM Card, for my phone, exchanging money and exploring. The apartment is only 2 blocks from the famed Copacabana Beach and it is beautiful. Lots of people since it's summer break here and nice waves for body surfing even though I didn't jump in that day.
Copacabana Beach with the SugarLoaf in the Background. Climbing that tomorrow as well.
Ipanema Beach
 Yesterday I took a very long walk and saw some incredibly amazing and beautiful things including Ipanema, Leblon and the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas among other things. It says Lagoon, but it's the size of a small lake. There were only 2 boats out on it towing wake boarders and the conditions were perfect. I was jealous I wasn't there too. One of them was very good and fun to watch. Solid on wake flip after wake flip. Anyway, I am booked to rock climb the Sugarloaf and the Corcovado tomorrow and hang glide Tuesday so I think I'm doing okay. The Corcovado by the way, is that big escarpment behind the Lagao with the famous 30 meter tall statue of Christo Redentor on top. You can see it in some the pictures. It's maybe the most famous landmark in Rio and I am excited to be getting to it via the steep side. Not many tourists on that approach I'm guessing. I am also booked to go hang gliding Tuesday and really looking forward to seeing the city from this unique perspective too.
Lagao Rodrigo de Freitas
Lagao Rodrigo de Freitas - wake boarding fun in the foreground and the Corcovado with Christo Redentor on top.
Lagao Rodrigo de Freitas
The other really cool thing I ran into purely by chance at the Lagao was a huge live music event ahead of Carnivale with tons of people and incredible music. I sat and listened and watched for a long time - just soaking it all in. Such a great outdoor culture here and so much energy. Have I said it before - LOVE this place!!

The sunset around the Lagao area was fabulous and it's hard to imagine it wasn't equally as incredible from just about any vantage point in the city. I've never seen a landscape and geography like this city is built on.  Gotta run for now, but will post more stuff after I get back from climbing and hang gliding. I have some posts I still need to do on Aqaba (like scuba diving in the Red Sea in Winter), Israel and other topics (as opposed to just places). Toodles for now....

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wadi Rum

The Magic of Wadi Rum in South Jordan


After leaving Petra for Aqaba on the Red Sea, I stopped in for a day at Wadi Rum. I can't describe how wonderful, vast, magnificent and lonely this place is. It's like a combination of Moab, Yosemite and Joshua Tree all wrapped together.  The taxi won't take you all the way in either. He stops outside the park entrance and a Bedouin takes you in and shepherds you around in a Jeep or similar vehicle. There are Camels there too, so I suppose that is a transport option too. My Wadi Rum guide was Abdullah and he was a friend of my driver Ali so that is how my ride into the park happened. The friendly and amazing Ali made some calls and voila - Abdullah is waiting for us when we get there. I pay Ali extra to wait for me, or at least come back at the end of the afternoon and of course he is there, all smiles and cheer when we get back from touring Wadi Rum.
In Arabic, Wadi means a valley or ravine that is dry except for the rainy season. This place is certainly dry and it's most definitely a valley. A big valley or series of them.


You can stay in a Bedouin Camp overnight in Wadi Rum and I have heard it's a great experience. During my visit, the weather was very cold with snow in the higher elevations and I was just terribly under dressed for the temperatures so did not stay overnight. I will come back and do that though. Also, I will come back with trad climbing gear and a motivated partner or two for some climbing. The highest rock face there is a whopping 1,746 meters tall which makes it taller than El Cap in Yosemite. Hard to fathom. There is just miles of rock in Wadi Rum and piles of new route potential for motivated first ascensionists. This is like Petra only without the ruins and with the possibility of climbing the rock. 



The best part about the tour, was that Abdullah would take me some cool place, point up into the rocks way up and say something like "You climb here. Be back in one hour..." or similar. So I got some great exercise and really spectacular vantage points for viewing the landscape. Of all the places, my favorite was a rock mesa on top of a large steep sand slope. It looked pretty easy and I thought I'd just run up it. Little did I know that the sand was really soft and deep, the slope steeper than it appeared and the distance further as well. I did mostly run up, but it was a hump and I was sucking air by the time I got to the top. The view was amazing and sun in a wonderful position for taking pictures. There was another guide up there too along with his clients from Switzerland. They came up the less steep other side, but I was very glad to do it my way. Coming down was huge fun!!! Just running down taking these monstrous leaps and bounding along with big air and sand everywhere. I ending up finding loose red sand for a couple of days afterward. It was beautiful, but just was in everything.



Although I am bummed I didn't overnight in a Bedouin Camp or climb the cliffs, I feel blessed that I got to go and inspired to return for climbing and exploration at a later date. So to all my climbing friends out there.... standing invite to go back. Anyone???
 

After Wadi Rum, I spent a few days in Aqaba on the Red Sea at the end of the Gulf of Aqaba. An interesting area where Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabian borders all converge in very close proximity. I did some really nice scuba diving right off the beach here. Very cold and no other numbskulls out doing it, but still great marine life and totally worth it. I did have a small moment of anxiety around Stonefish in the immediate area, but managed not to step on one while putting my fins on. The Dive-master said she'd seen several right in that spot over the last few days. Those suckers freak me. I'll post that story soon providing pics turned out from my new, but, but battery sucking vampire underwater camera.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Petra

Day One at Petra in Southern Jordan

If you've ever seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you have seen one of the better known monuments at the ancient archeological site of Petra. The giant monument seen near the end of the movie is carved right out of a huge cliff face and you first approach it down a long, narrow and winding canyon. There are many many structures carved into the rock here, but this is the first one of real signficance you come across walking into the park and it's called the Treasury. As you come toward the opening where it lies, the canyon narrows even more, but you can catch part of it in the background hinting what is to come. When you get there it all just opens up like a stage production. It's magnificent. Its ancient and you can see/feel that immediately.
My first Camel ride
Coming out of the canyon slot and seeing the Treasury in the background for the first time
The facade of the Treasury structure. Note the people in front for scale.
Sitting in front of the Treasury building. Think I'm wearing every piece of clothing I have here to stay warm.
The first evening I arrived in Petra and the adjoining town of Wadi Musa I was treated to an incredible sunset which I watched from my huge balcony at the hotel. I was extremely fortunate to get this room as there are only two like it in the whole hotel which is literally 100 feet from the park entrance. You can't get any closer than this. My hotel - The Petra Guest House also plays host to the Cave Bar, which is quite a destination here and cut right into the rock face.  The people at the hotel have been amazing, kind, generous and super informative.
They also told me I should go on the Petra at Night tour/walk that same evening as it wouldn't be repeated during my time here. It cost 12 Jordanian Dinars (about $16+ USD) and turned out to be wonderful. Once past the park entrance, there are small tea light candles lining the entire mile or more of path down through the canyon and opening at the Treasury (see above). It's just sublime. The weather was very cold that night and ended up sleeting/raining once I got down there, but didn't take away from the experience at all. They played and sang for us all once everyone had gathered and were sitting on the steps or portico of the Treasury structure.
Sunset from my hotel balcony
The town of Wadi Musa at Petra
A sea of lights in the open area in front of the Treasury structure 
Night sky sitting inside the Treasury portico looking out
Continuing down the path past the Treasury, the canyon opens up again and you start to see more and more variety of structures lining the cliff faces all around. Some are low and many are up on higher tiered cliff bands. Some look pretty inaccessible at first glance and it's hard to believe that people with basic tools and technologies could work these miraculous structures into the rock like they did.



If you want to visit the Monastery and higher view points at Petra, be prepared for a long steep walk or an interesting donkey ride on these narrow and winding trails carved into the rocks and canyons toward the far side of the park. I chose to walk, since I virtually always do and was rewarded with so many incredible sights and experiences you would miss if you just zoomed by on 4 legged transport I think. It's that whole slowing down and stopping to smell the flowers sort of thing. Not that it wouldn't be fun and a little exciting near some of the steep winding precipices along the way.  It would indeed!! I chose to take a camel ride later in the day when I could cover ground I'd already been through on foot.
Colored rock bands and patterns all swirled together by time and nature 
One of the most amazing things I came across were these gorgeous swirling patterns of color and shape made entirely by naturally colored rock bands pushed and moved around by time and geology. Though they look 3D, the colors are all flat and generally are fairly large. The photos here each probably cover an area from about 8 to maybe 12 feet. I could have stared at these all day long. So many endless variations and so much beauty. You can't paint this stuff.
This is on the ceiling of the Museum Chamber. It's all natural rock.
My shadow on the patterned rock in a smaller adjoining chamber
When you get to the top where the Monastery is, you find several other signs for Best View or similar and paths going in different directions. As is turns out, they all have very cool views as well as a hut with people selling tea and conversation at the very tippy top of each. That actually brings me to one of my only complaints about big tourist sites including World Heritage place like this and they all have it. There are so many people and little stalls everywhere selling all manner of souvenirs, maps, snacks, tourist crap etc. that it really begins to impact the experience after a while. In some places, you can walk along for quite a distance and decline the same offer for the same thing one after the other. This is even after they see and hear you talking to the previous person peddling the exact same thing they are.
It can be very persistent and while I always, but always deal with it outwardly in humor and lighthearted conversation, inwardly it can definitely be wearing. I struggle with this because while it is very distracting for me, at the end of the day I get to go home and they do not. They are just trying to make a living and stay fed and clothed in mostly very poor conditions and economies. Many of these sellers/peddlers are kids and that is hard to see wishing they were in school and studying for better opportunities for their futures. I cannot judge and try hard not to. It's tough for me though.
Store souvenir kiosk along the path up to the Monastery. Lots of these on the trail.

Up near the summit and you can see the weather moving down and creating cool atmospheric conditions for experiencing this amazing place. The structures carved into the rock are huge, old and monolithic. You can see part of one person in the top picture above for scale.



Path up to the Monastery
Path coming down from the Monastery
Anyway, the variety of ancient man-made structures, natural geologic wonders and other experiences here is endless. You could spend days here and only scratch the surface. I have 3 days here and it seems very insufficient.
The Artist in me sees the sublime beauty and aesthetics everywhere, both manmade and natural. The Historian appreciates the ages, lives and stories here while the Climber in me just wants to scale this incredible rock for the next 100 years (no climbing allowed though). An amazing experience all around and I feel blessed once again to be on this journey.  Now for Day Two here...